Boko Haram has terrorized Nigeria with bombings, beheadings, and abductions since its inception in 2002. Now that the Islamist terror group is increasing its reliance on one of its most horrifying tactics: the use of children—specifically girls—as "human bombs."
According to UNICEF, the number of children being used as bombs has quadrupled this year. There have been 83 child bombers since January 1 of 2017. Fifty-five of them were young girls, most of them under 15 years of age; one girl even had a baby strapped to her body.
"The use of children in this way is an atrocity," declared the UN's children agency. "Children used as 'human bombs' are, above all, victims, not perpetrators."
Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to "Western education is forbidden" in the region's Hausa language, have waged war against the Nigerian government in its efforts to create an Islamic state. The insurgency has displaced 1.7 million people in northeast Nigeria, where such bombings commonly take place. UNICEF says that Boko Haram have sometimes, but not always, taken credit for these child suicide bombers.
"Boko Haram are increasingly targeting 'soft' targets—marketplaces, schools, even camps where displaced people have come to for life-saving assistance," says UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado. "The aim of using this type of tactic is to instill terror by making it impossible for ordinary people to live their lives without fear of attack."
The child used in the attack often dies once the bomb is detonated remotely. In a few cases, the bomber has been able to hand themselves into the authorities and allow security forces to remove the incendiary device. In March of 2016, a teenage bomber who surrendered to the police said that she was one of the 276 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014.
"Perhaps the reason more women and children are used as human bombs is because they are traditionally regarded with less suspicion by security forces in the region," Mercado says. "Women and girls are also able to hide explosive devices under their flowing garments and generally less commonly searched by male security forces."
However, Mercado says that this does not account for the sudden surge in the number of children—and specifically girls—being used as human bombs.
"The data we have show that girls started being used as human bombs in mid-2014," Mercado told Broadly. "We can't speak for why more and more children, especially girls are being used—but its extreme cruelty certainly draws attention to Boko Haram."