The United Nations Children’s Fund on Tuesday, said about 83 children have been used as “human bombs” in terror attacks in Nigeria this year.
The children, including 55 girls, were reportedly induced to commit suicide bombings after being abducted from their families by the terror group Boko Haram.
The figure represents a rapid escalation of the horrific practice and is already four times higher than the whole of 2016, UNICEF said.
Thousands of children have been abducted by Boko Haram since the group launched a violent campaign in 2009 to form a state based on its interpretation of Islamic law in eastern Nigeria, many of which have been sent back into the surrounding community as suicide bombers.
The militants have waged a campaign of abductions, assassinations and bombings against those it considers non-believers, including the government of Nigeria and other muslims, especially in the region of Borno and the regional capital Maiduguri.
“I was in Maiduguri in July, and the frequency of the attacks is incredible,” UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told VICE News by phone from Geneva. “I was there for eight days, and there were five incidents involving two boys and four girls. The level of stress ordinary people are living through is extraordinary.”
Most of the children forced to become suicide bombers are under 15 years old, UNICEF said. The report specified that in one gruesome incident, a victim included a baby that had been strapped to a girl.
A previous report released in April by UNICEF said the group’s exact technique for inducing children to participate in suicide bombings remains uncertain, including whether the children are lied to or promised entry into heaven.
“It is unclear whether some of these children are even aware of what they are being asked to do,” the report said. “It has been difficult to ascertain if some of these children are being used to transport the devices to other locations and other active combatants or if they are being forced into a perverse death mission in exchange for promised redemption and martyrdom.”
The terror group’s use of abducted children as suicide bombers reverberates beyond the threat of another attack. Children who are released or escape from the group are normally stigmatized, facing suspicion and rejection when they return home, according to UNICEF.
Boko Haram’s fundamentalist ideology preaches the rejection of all types of western culture, from democratic elections to clothing. The word “haram” means forbidden, and the group’s name translates loosely as “western education is forbidden.”
The use of children as suicide bombers has expanded dramatically in recent years, from an initial 4 cases during 2014, to reach a total of 125 children, 95 of whom were girls.
The figures released Tuesday by UNICEF don’t include attacks in the surrounding countries of Chad, Niger or Cameroon, which would push the figures even higher, Mercado said.