Children are in danger of being seen as threats, after an "alarming spike" in suicide bombings by children and girls in Nigeria, UN officials have said. The Islamic uprising left thousands of children without protection.
During the first five months of this year, Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram used more women and children as suicide bombers than in all of 2014, UN children's agency UNICEF said Tuesday.
“Children are not instigating these suicide attacks; they are used intentionally by adults in the most horrific way,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
“They are first and foremost victims – not perpetrators,” she added.
There were 26 reported suicide attacks through the course of 2014 in northeastern Nigeria, according to the UN officials. By contrast, 27 instances have been recorded this year, as of May 2015. In at least three-quarters of the blasts, the bombers were women or children.
Boko Haram would send them to crowded areas, such as market places and bus stations. Girls, aged seven to 17 according to eyewitness accounts, carried out nine suicide bombings in the past 11 months, UN officials said.
Families torn in chaos
The Boko Haram jihadis captured the world's attention by kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls in April 2014. However, new abductions are being reported every week.
During almost six years of the Islamist insurgency, up to 10,000 children have been separated from their parents, according to UNICEF estimates.
"Without the protection of their families, these children are at greater risk of exploitation by adults, and this can lead to involvement in criminal or armed group activities," Gough said in a statement quoted on the UNICEF website.
The UN agency expressed concern that children might be perceived as threats, following the latest developments, and face risk of retaliation.
Vigilantes caught by surprise
The UN report comes as Nigerian authorities are still counting the casualties of the latest Boko Haram attack on the city of Gubio. The Islamists killed at least 37 people and torched 400 buildings in a surprise weekend raid, local vigilantes said Tuesday.
A civilian self-defense fighter, Yusuf Modu Gubio, said he killed some of the insurgents but "to my surprise, they were mostly young boys and teenagers."
The vigilantes were caught off guard, as they were playing football when the attack was launched, according to the self-defense forces.
dj/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP, epd)