Johannesburg - The United Nations children agency has expressed extreme concern at the appalling increase in the cruel and calculated use of children, especially girls, as “human bombs” in north-east Nigeria.
“Since the beginning of January 2017, 83 children had been used as so-called human bombs, 55 being girls, most of them often under 15-years-old,” UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson Marixie Mercado told reporters at Tuesday's regular press briefing in Geneva.
“The 27 other children were boys and one was an infant strapped to a girl,” she continued. She pointed out that since 2014, children have been repeatedly used in this way, saying the number of children used so far this year alone was “already four times higher than what it was for all of 2016”.
“Children used as human bombs are, above all, victims, not perpetrators,” Mercado underscored.
She went on to say that the use of children in such attacks had a further impact of creating suspicion and fear of children released, rescued, or escaped from Boko Haram.
“They face rejection when they tried to reintegrate their communities which compounds their suffering,” she explained.
Mercado painted a dire picture, describing the situation as a massive displacement and malnutrition crisis – “a deadly combination for children”.
She said that a significent percent of the persons displaced by the insurgencies in north-east Nigeria were children, and the vast majority of them in Borno state, where most of those attacks were taking place.
North-east Nigeria is one of the four countries or regions facing the spectre of famine, with up to 450 000 children at risk of severe acute malnutrition this year, according to UNICEF.
UNICEF is providing psychosocial support for children who had been held by Boko Haram and the agency is also working with families and communities to foster the acceptance of returned children – including through social and economic reintegration support.
As of July, UNICEF has supported more than 3 000 children and 1 200 women.
It also backed reconciliation activities in north-east Nigeria led by communities, religious leaders and influential women to help promote tolerance, acceptance, and reintegration.
Noting that a $1 billion (about R13 billion) appeal to minimally help sustain people in Nigeria is only 60 percent funded, Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters at the briefing that the situation for civilians in the area was extremely grave.
Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon stressed that women and children in Borno state face graved human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence.