Radical Islamic terrorists from Boko Haram are increasingly forcing children to carry out bombings, with the number of attacks since January already nearly reaching the total for all of last year, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.N. children’s agency.
UNICEF says at least 117 attacks have been carried out by youth in the Lake Chad basin region since 2014, with nearly 80 percent of the bombs strapped to girls, who were sometimes drugged before their missions.
The very sight of children near marketplaces and checkpoints is sparking fear, according to Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa. As a result, nearly 1,500 children were detained last year across Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
“These children are victims, not perpetrators,” Poirier said. “Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.” Children have been used to carry out 27 attacks in the first three months of this year, after 30 such attacks last year.
The new report coincides with this week’s third anniversary of the mass abduction of Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
The mass abduction of 276 girls from a boarding school in Nigeria in 2014 mobilized an international campaign to find and free the girls, many of whom were forced into marriages with fighters and became pregnant. Dozens quickly escaped, and 21 were freed in October through negotiations with Boko Haram mediated by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross.