Northeast Nigeria has witnessed a sharp increase in suicide attacks involving women and girls this year, the United Nations children’s agency warned today, calling on the country’s incoming Government make the safety and well-being of children a political priority.
“Children are not instigating these suicide attacks; they are used intentionally by adults in the most horrific way,” the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Nigeria, Jean Gough said in a press release, stressing that “they are first and foremost victims – not perpetrators.”
Child suicide bombers not only include kidnapped children, but also involve those displaced and separated from families or those less protected, according to UNICEF.
The numbers of attacks carried out so far this year have already surpassed the total number of such incidents in 2014.
“In 2014, there were 26 incidents of suicide attacks recorded but during the first five months of 2015, 27 incidents had been recorded (until mid-May),” said Laurent Dutordoir, UNICEF child protection specialist in Abuja, Nigeria, who briefed press in Geneva via telephone today.
He also noted that nine child suicide bombers, whose ages ranged between seven and 17 years, and whom are all girls, have been reported.
“At least 75 per cent of the suicide attacks were strongly indicated to have been carried out by women and children,” Mr. Dutordoir warned.
Concerned that the increased use of child suicide bombers could lead to children being perceived as potential threats, which could put all children involved with armed groups at greater risk of being retaliated against and prevented from rehabilitation and reintegration in their communities, UNICEF is ramping up its assistance to reduce such vulnerabilities.
“UNICEF staff are travelling into the field on a weekly basis,” said Mr. Dutordoir, adding that the staff also works “with local partners on the ground to reach those children, both in internally-displaced persons camps and in informal settings.”
Moreover, UNICEF and partners are working with the Government to identify unaccompanied children, provide remedial education and medical care. So far, over 35,000 children have received such psychosocial support.
UNICEF further calls on the Nigerian authorities to place the safety and well-being of all children, especially those affected by the crisis in the Northeast, at the centre of the political agenda, as the incoming President of Nigeria is expected to be sworn-in this week.