The United Nations (UN) says more than 10,000 children were killed or maimed in conflicts in 2017 while more than 8,000 youngsters were recruited or used as combatants.
The annual report of the secretary-general on Children and Armed Conflict covered 20 countries, including Nigeria, Afghanistan, India, the Philippines, Syria and Yemen.
Virginia Gamba, UN’s expert on Children and Armed Conflict, said the UN verified 881 children out of which 570 were killed and 311 maimed in Nigeria, attributing 620 of the casualties to Boko Haram and 261 to Nigerian security forces.
She provided examples, including what she described as the “despicable trend” of turning children in north-eastern Nigeria into “human bombs,” where nearly half of the 881 verified child casualties resulted from suicide attacks.
The expert said Boko Haram has continued to force civilians, including children, to perpetrate suicide attacks.
She said 66 parties to the conflict were listed in 2018 – three more than in the 2016 report – with nine government forces and 57 armed groups named.
“Among the most significant violations registered in 2017 were killing and maiming, recruitment and use and attacks on schools and hospitals, all of which registered a rise in comparison to the previous year,’’ Gamba said.
The UN report verified more than 21,000 grave violations of children’s rights between January and December 2017, compared with 15,500 in 2016.
“In north-east Nigeria, as well as in neighbouring countries, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram, intensified attacks on civilians, including through suicide bombings and ground attacks,” the expert said.
She said the total number of verified cases of the recruitment and use of children decreased by almost 50 percent from 2,122 in 2016 to 1,092 in 2017 in Nigeria.
The UN envoy said the decrease might be attributed to the loss of territory by Boko Haram, the displacement of civilians from areas controlled by the group and the Civilian Joint Task Force action plan, signed in 2017.
With regard to the security forces, 235 casualties were caused by the unfortunate aerial bombardments on Rann in 2017, while 26 casualties were suspected to be carrying improvised explosive devices.
“Almost half of all casualties – 411 – resulted from suicide attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram (including the use of children as carriers of person-borne improvised explosive devices),” the report said.
“A worrying trend is the continued use of children by Boko Haram as carriers of person-borne improvised explosive devices, with 146 cases documented in Nigeria.
“The UN verified 45 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, affecting 131 children, including nine boys and 125 cases – nine boys and 116 girls – were attributed to Boko Haram. All child victims attributed to Boko Haram were abducted, raped or forcibly married to members of the group.”
The report also said UN verified four attacks on schools and one attack on a hospital in Nigeria attributed to Boko Haram.
“In addition, 1,456 children in north-east Nigeria were verified as having been abducted by Boko Haram during previous years,” it read.
It noted that 82 of the Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014 were released as a result of internationally supported negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, while 112 remained unaccounted for.
Gamba encouraged the government to cease the use of schools for military purposes, in line with the commitments in the Safe Schools Declaration, and to provide a protective educational environment for children in particular for girls.
“The continued number of violations by Boko Haram remains gravely disturbing, in particular, the use of children as carriers of person-borne improvised explosive devices and the number of abductions,” she said.
She expressed concern for the significant increase in the number of children killed and maimed and of cases of sexual violence.
The envoy called on all parties to the conflict to take urgent action to improve the protection of children.