Terrorist group Boko Haram has been using children to carry out about 1 in 5 of its suicide bombings, a UNICEF report has revealed (pdf).
The report points to a dramatic increase in child suicide bombers over the past year, going up from four in 2014 to 44 in in 2015, according to the "Beyond Chibok" report, which the organization released Tuesday.
About three-quarters of all child suicide bombers are girls, and Cameroon was pinpointed as having the highest number of suicide attacks—21—involving children. According to the report, 17 children were used in Nigeria and two in Chad.
"The proportion of attacks involving boys and girls is also on the rise, with children as young as eight. The use of children, especially girls, as suicide bombers has become one of the defining, and alarming features of the conflict," the report reads.
The report is timed to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the abduction of more than 200 girls in Chibok, Nigeria. Since then, thousands of children have fallen victim and disappeared in several other African countries because of actions by the terrorist group.
"Scores have been separated from their families and subjected to exploitation, abuse and recruitment by armed groups. Some have even been used to carry out suicide bombings. Yet, their stories are barely told," according to the report, which notes that the rise of the group has displaced more than 2.3 million people since May 2013. In just one year, the number of displaced children has grown by more than 60 percent, increasing from 800,000 to 1.3 million.
"Let us be clear: These children are victims, not perpetrators," Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement. "Deceiving children and forcing them to carry out deadly acts has been one of the most horrific aspects of the violence in Nigeria and in [neighboring] countries."
"Boys are forced to attack their own families to demonstrate their loyalty to Boko Haram, while girls are exposed to severe abuse including sexual violence and forced marriage to fighters,” the report states. "Some are also used to carry or detonate bombs."
Read the full report here (pdf).