Boko Haram female suicide bombers are victims too. Here’s why

The Boko Haram insurgency has continued to step up its campaign of indiscriminate killings and suicide bombing using girls, often veiled to blow up targets in Nigeria’s northeast, northern Cameroon, Chad and Niger. But whether it’s a reluctant teenager or a child with no idea he or she is about to be blown up with a remote device, they all have one thing in common–innocence.

In a situation where some of these teenagers blow themselves up, they often appear rather disgruntled and terrified. Three months ago a distressing video footage emerged of a reluctant teenage suicide bomber who was weeping seconds before blowing himself up. In that moment, the images of a terrified boy driving an open-top armored car and later detonating it, cast a disturbing light on the claims that suicide bombers go to their death willingly.

According to Leila Zerrougui, the United Nations (UN) secretary-general’s special representative on children and armed conflict, these female suicide bombers are often unaware they’re carrying bombs. Security forces also informed the UN that the bombs are often detonated remotely.”I personally doubt that the children know,” she told reporters, calling attention to the fact that many of the girls are as young as 11 or 12.  “That means that it is not the person herself who did it.”

“Children are not only affected, they are specifically targeted.”

Zerrougui expressed discontent with the fact that children are used as human bombs, pointing that this is one of the worst manifestations of an increasingly blatant disregard for the safety and security of minors in conflict situations around the world. In other parts of the world there are also thousands of youngsters forced to join brutal armies. “Children as young as four or five are being used as human shields on battlefields by armed groups like the Islamic State or the anti-Balaka in the Central African Republic,” she said.

She also stated that since her appointment in 2012, the situation seems to be getting worse despite the fact that she has each year decried an increasingly dire situation for children caught up in conflicts. “I can say that 2015 was really a difficult year for children all over the world where conflicts are ongoing,” she said. “We have thousands of children killed, maimed, schools attacked and children by the thousands recruited in many places.”

According to a report from UNICEF early this year, about 800,000 children have been forced to flee their homes as the six year onslaught by the militant group is now being heavily repelled by military forces and civilian self-defence groups. The report also beamed the spotlight on how the conflict in Nigeria’s northeast is affecting children in the country and across the region in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Children abducted by Boko Haram have are used as combatants, cooks, porters and look-outs, while young women and girls are subjected to forced marriage, labour and rape.

Last month, on the same day Nigeria’s army allegedly arrested one of the 100 most-wanted Boko Haram suspects in Lagos, twin bombs exploded in a mosque in Cameroon. Two female suicide bombers suspected of belonging to the Boko Haram militant group also killed three Nigerians in a truck with refugees along Cameroon’s far North region.

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