One in every five “suicide bomber” used by Boko Haram in the past two years has been a child, underscoring the heartless nature of the religious extremist group, according to a report released Tuesday by the United Nations Children’s Fund, writes Al Jazeera.

Most of the bombers were girls, starting at the age of 8. The group’s attacks have jumped elevenfold in West Africa in the past year, writes the news outlet:

Suicide bombings have spread beyond Nigeria’s borders, with an increasing number of deadly attacks carried out by children with explosives hidden under their clothes or in baskets.

“The use of children, especially girls, as so-called suicide bombers has become a defining and alarming feature of this conflict,” Laurent Duvillier, regional spokesman for UNICEF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday.

[…]

There were 44 child “suicide bombings” in West Africa last year, up from four in 2014, UNICEF said, mostly in Cameroon and Nigeria.

According to the US military, since Boko Haram’s six-year campaign to “set up an emirate” in northeastern Nigeria began, the group has killed around 15,000 people.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

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