Surrendered Boko Haram Islamic militants are loaded onto an aircraft by the Nigerian military to be taken to a rehabilitation centre in Gombe, Nigeria, on July 8. According to UNICEF, Boko Haram has used 83 children for suicide bombs so far in 2017. Photo by Usuf Osman/EPA
Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group in Nigeria, has increased its use of children as suicide bombers this year, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.
UNICEF said Boko Haram, an Islamic State-affiliated group, has used 83 children this year as "human bombs," including 55 girls and 27 boys. Most of the children have been under the age of 15, the group said. One of the children used was a baby strapped to an older girl.
The numbers point to a stark increase compared to last year. During all of 2016, Boko Haram reportedly used only 30 children in suicide bombs.
"The use of children in such attacks has had a further impact of creating suspicion and fear of children who have been released, rescued or escaped from Boko Haram," UNICEF said in a statement. "As a result, many children who have managed to get away from captivity face rejection when they try to reintegrate into their communities, compounding their suffering."
"These children are victims, not perpetrators," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF's regional director for West and Central Africa, in April. "Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible."
Boko Haram, founded in 2002, has has waged war against the Nigerian government in an effort to create an Islamic state in the majority Muslim north of the country. During that time, there have been at least 6,000 civilians killed in attacks carried out by the group, according to The Washington Post.
Some estimates have the number of killed civilians as high as 15,000.