More than 1.3 million children have been forced from their homes by Boko Haram, says Unicef. Photo: World Watch Monitor

As it torments West Africa, Boko Haram is increasingly turning to children to carry out its crimes.

One of every five suicide bombers deployed by Boko Haram in the past two years has been a child, usually a girl, according to a report released on Tuesday (11 April) by Unicef.

Boko Haram used 44 children in suicide attacks last year, compared with only four in 2014, the report found. The youngest bomber so far was thought to be eight years old.

The report seeks to quantify one of the most chilling elements of Boko Haram’s eight year insurgency which has claimed more than 20,000 lives and caused a severe food crisis, in the Lake Chad Basin region, which encompasses Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

Toby Lanzer, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for that region, said Boko Haram’s use of children as suicide bombers “really beggars belief”.

“To me that’s the epitome of evil,” Mr. Lanzer told reporters during a briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York about his recent trip to north-eastern Nigeria. “I cannot think of anything more horrifying.”

Among the four countries affected by the insurgency, Cameroon has had the highest number of attacks involving children, Unicef said. Most of the attackers were girls aged between 13 and 15. People who have escaped Boko Haram have reported that the group systematically trains women and girls to be bombers.

It will be three years ago tomorrow that the group kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a school in Nigeria’s north-eastern town of Chibok. Several dozen escaped soon afterwards, but 195 are still missing.

Source: The New York Times