UN human rights experts call for progress in abduction of Chibok schoolgirls
Boko Haram despatched 44 child suicide bombers to Nigeria and Cameroun last year, up from four in 2014, UNICEF, tracking the phenomenon said on Tuesday.
The UN agency said child suicide bombings have surged 11-fold over the last year, with children as young as 8, mostly girls, detonating bombs in schools and markets, a leading charity said.
Suicide bombings have spread beyond Nigeria’s borders, with an increasing number of deadly attacks carried out by children with explosives hidden under their clothes or in baskets.
“The use of children, especially girls, as so-called suicide bombers has become a defining and alarming feature of this conflict,” Laurent Duvillier, regional spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It’s basically turning the children against their own communities by strapping bombs around their bodies,” he said.
Some young children probably do not know they are carrying explosives, which are often detonated remotely, Duvillier said.
Islamist Boko Haram’s six-year campaign to set up an Islamic emirate in northeastern Nigeria has killed some 15,000 people, according to the U.S. military.
Outmanoeuvred after a regional offensive drove it from strongholds in Nigeria last year, it is increasingly using children to carry out attacks.
The tactic has proven effective in increasing the number of casualties, as people do not usually see children as a threat.
It is not clear how Boko Haram coerces children to carry out the attacks, but those who have been raped are more psychologically damaged and vulnerable, the U.S. Army says.
Amnesty International estimates Boko Haram has kidnapped about 2,000 women and girls since 2014 for use as cooks, sex slaves, fighters and suicide bombers.
It is two years since the militants abducted some 270 Nigerian schoolgirls in Chibok, many of whom were forced to convert to Islam and marry their captors.
Three-quarters of the suicide bombers have been girls, UNICEF said, who are often thought less likely to arouse suspicion, although that may be changing now.
Abducted boys are forced to attack their own families to demonstrate their loyalty to Boko Haram, it said.
Although many children are being released from captivity as the military reclaims territory from Boko Haram, they often face stigma and rejection.
“Some women would beat me,” 17-year-old Khadija, who lives in a camp for displaced people in Nigeria, told UNICEF.
She and her baby, born of rape, escaped captivity during a Nigerian army attack on Boko Haram.
“They said: ‘You are a Boko Haram wife, don’t come near us!’” she told UNICEF.
Almost one million Nigerian children are missing out on education as Boko Haram has destroyed more than 900 schools and killed more than 600 teachers, Human Rights Watch also said yesterday.
“Boko Haram is robbing an entire generation of children in northeast Nigeria of their education,” Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, ahead of the second anniversary of the abduction of the schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in Nigeria, a group of United Nations and African human rights experts yesterday appealed to Boko Haram to immediately reveal the location of the girls, and urged the government of Nigeria to escalate its efforts to free all civilians kidnaped by the group.
“In the last two years, despite re-assurances from those at the highest level of the Nigerian government, the parents have not seen any concrete progress in locating and liberating their daughters,” the experts said. “The lack of access to information increases the suffering of the abductees’ families through false hopes and frustrations.”
The experts said that while they understand the security considerations put forward by the authorities, which prevent the disclosure of information, they are deeply concerned that “the grievances of the families and their most basic right to be kept informed about the plight of their loved ones has largely been ignored.”
The experts believe that the Nigerian authorities should meet the parents’ demand for the designation of a focal point to liaise with the families of abducted persons and provide them with regular information and assistance.
In the past two years, several abducted civilians have either managed to escape from Boko Haram or were freed by the Nigerian army. The UN and African human rights experts welcomed these operations and urged the authorities to ensure that those who have been released are provided with adequate care, recovery and reintegration services.
The experts commended ongoing programmes such as the Safe Schools Initiative and the Victims Support Fund. “We are nonetheless seriously concerned by the absence of follow-up in the provision of care, recovery and reintegration measures for victims of sexual violence,” they noted.
“The reintegration and rehabilitation of women and children are essential in the path towards lasting peace,” the experts said, recalling the findings of a joint visit to Nigeria in January by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, on contemporary forms of slavery, and on the right to health.
“Both the Nigerian authorities and the international community should make it clear that all the alleged crimes perpetrated by Boko Haram will be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated, and those responsible, directly or as commanders or superiors, will be brought to justice,” the experts said.
“The declaration by the African Union making this year the African Year of Human Rights with a specific focus on women’s rights should be an additional call to action for African States and the international community to actively support Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram and in addressing deep-rooted human rights violations such as gender-based violence and discrimination,” the experts concluded.