UNICEF: Boko Haram forced 135 children to carry out suicide bombings in 2017

Women and children rescued from Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the Sambisa forest by the Nigerian military arrive at an internally displaced people's camp in Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria, May 2, 2015. | Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

A report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has found that the Islamist militant group Boko Haram had forced at least 135 children to conduct suicide bombings in northern Nigeria and Cameroon in 2017.

UNICEF had expressed alarm at the number of children being used in conflict zones around the world and lamented that parties to conflicts have ignored international laws that were intended for protecting children.

"Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds," Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Program, said in a statement, according to Turkish news outlet Anadolu Agency.

"In conflicts around the world, children have become front line targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become standard tactics in conflicts from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar," he added.

The UN Agency noted that the number of children who were forced by Boko Haram to act as suicide bombers in 2017 was almost five times the number in 2016.

Boko Haram's insurgency in northern Nigeria has resulted in the deaths of nearly 20,000 people since 2009. In October, the Nigerian government began conducting the mass trials of over 6,600 suspects believed to be members of the terror group at a military facility in Kainji town.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari stated in his New Year's address that Boko Haram had been "beaten." But despite the authorities' claims that the group had been vanquished, Boko Haram militants have stepped up their attacks on military and civilian targets in recent months.

UNICEF had also expressed concern about children being recruited to take part in conflicts in other parts of the world.

The agency noted that there had been 1,740 cases of child recruitment in Somalia in the first 10 months of 2017, while nearly 700 children were killed in Afghanistan in the first nine months of the year.

In South Sudan, more than 19,000 children have been recruited to join armed groups, and over 2,300 children have died or were wounded since the start of the conflict in December 2013, according to UNICEF.

"In Yemen, nearly 1,000 days of fighting left at least 5,000 children dead or injured, according to verified data, with actual numbers expected to be much higher. More than 11 million children need humanitarian assistance. Out of 1.8 million children suffering from malnutrition, 385,000 are severely malnourished and at risk of death if not urgently treated," the agency stated.

The UNICEF report further noted that as many as 850,000 children have been forced to flee from their homes, while more than 200 health centers and 400 schools have been attacked in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the course of 2017.