The terrorist group is most famously responsible for the abduction of some 200 schoolgirls three years ago. And now, a new report from UNICEF shows that they are sinking to new depths of depravity.
Boko Haram very clearly — and violently — has an ongoing campaign against children in Northern Nigeria and the Greater Lake Chad region.
According to the report, the number of children used as suicide bombers is surging this year. There are nearly as many children — mostly girls — sent to their deaths as suicide bombers in the first four months of 2017 than all of last year. “Since January 2014, 117 children – more than 80 per cent of them girls – have been used in ‘suicide’ attacks in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon,” the report says. “As of March this year, 27 children have been used in this way in northeast Nigeria alone.”
To make matters worse, these attacks are creating a culture of suspicion around children. Government security forces are detaining an increasing number of children, sometimes putting them in an form of what they call “administrative detention.” Some 1600 children were detained under these circumstances last year, according to the report.
How are these children recruited?
UNICEF relays the story of one girl, “Amina,” who through a series of tragic circumstances ended up being used in a suicide attack.
Amina never had the chance to go to school because she grew up in a remote island of Lake Chad where there was none. She was 16 when a man from another village proposed to her. She accepted against the will of her family and left her village. What she didn’t know was that her new husband was part of Boko Haram. After being manipulated and drugged, she was forced into an attempted suicide attack. Four people including Amina were on a canoe riding towards a weekly crowded market. The four girls carried bombs that were strapped to their bodies. When a Vigilante Committee spotted them on the canoe, two of them activated their explosives belt. Amina didn’t detonate her device but she was injured in the explosion. She lost both her legs. She was brought to the hospital in severe shock and with grave injuries. She didn’t speak and barely ate for months. Following family tracing efforts, her family was found but they rejected her at first out of fear of stigma. After a process of mediation they took her back home.
Today, she is still on her knees and very dependent on her family to survive. She is in urgent need of support to prevent her from being excluded by the community. She wants to get an education and find a way to support herself.
UNICEF is among the many international aid agencies trying to make life marginally better for people affected by this conflict. In all, some 1.3 million children are displaced across the region. And while there have been significant gains against Boko Haram in recent months, the group is clearly still able to inflict fear and misery upon the population of the region.
Listen to this podcast episode to learn more about the crisis in Northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.