Boko Haram has stepped up its use of children as suicide bombers—and most of them are girls

Despite the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign, Boko Haram has abducted more children in Nigeria.
Despite the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign, Boko Haram has abducted more children in Nigeria.
Image: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
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For the better part of the last decade, Nigeria has battled Islamist insurgents Boko Haram who have wreaked havoc in the country’s northeast killing at least 20,000 people and displacing some 2 million people from their homes. While the fight has mostly seen the Nigerian army up against militants of the sect, data from UNICEF (pdf) shows Boko Haram has increased one of the worst features of its militant tactics.

Boko Haram-backed suicide bombings involving children have jumped eleven fold within in the last two years, according to UNICEF. While 2014 saw only four incidents of suicide bombings involving children, that figure shot up to 44 in 2015. The group’s operational base has gone beyond Nigeria as it now carries out attacks across Cameroon, Niger and Chad as well.

The use of children as suicide bombers can be linked to the sect’s weakening capacity as Nigeria’s army has made gains against the sect over the past year. Using children and resorting to guerilla attacks to hit soft targets seems the militant sect’s way of evolving and trying to remain a threat. While children may have previously attracted little suspicion, communities in affected areas are now on high alert to the threat possible child suicide bombers. Based on several witness reports, some of the children involved have been as young as 10 years old.

Notably, 75% of children involved in Boko Haram suicide attacks are girls. The group’s kidnap of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a town in Borno State, Nigeria, drew widespread attention as the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign reverberated around the world. Since then though, the group is estimated to have abducted an additional 2,000 children.

There has been a sharp spike in Boko Haram suicide bombings in general. Up from 32 in 2014, there were 151 suicide bombings in 2015. For the first time, the sect carried out suicide bombing attacks outside Nigeria.

As a result of the group’s increased cross-border activity, affected countries are now seeking collaborative efforts to stamp out the insurgency. Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to fix Nigeria’s insecurity challenges while campaigning for office last year, committed $100 million to a multinational task force as one of his first acts in office last June.