Geneva - Many of the young girls Boko Haram sends out as suicide bombers in Nigeria and neighbouring countries are probably unaware that they will be blown up, a UN expert said on Tuesday.
Boko Haram jihadists have in recent months increasingly used young women and girls as suicide bombers in northeast Nigeria, northern Cameroon, Chad and Niger, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
Leila Zerrougui, the UN secretary general's special representative on children and armed conflict, suggested on Tuesday that especially the children used in this way were in many cases not aware of what they were about to do.
"Many of them don't know that they will be blown up with remote devices," she told reporters, pointing out many of the girls are as young as 11 or 12.
"I personally doubt that the children know," Zerrougui said, adding that security forces had informed the UN that the bombs are often set off remotely.
"That means that it is not the person herself who did it," she said.
Zerrougui lamented that the use of children as human bombs is one of the worst manifestations of an increasingly blatant disregard for the safety and security of minors in conflict situations around the world.
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Elsewhere, thousands of youngsters are used as soldiers and 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.
"This is the worst form where children are really put in danger and their bodies are really used as a weapon," she insisted.
Zerrougui said that since she was appointed to her position in 2012, she has each year decried an increasingly dire situation for children caught up in conflicts, "and every year [it gets] even worse."
And 2015 was no exception.
"I can say that 2015 was really a difficult year for children all over the world where conflicts are ongoing," she said.
The world is currently dealing with six major conflicts, including in Syria and Yemen, compared to one or two normally.
And if you count protracted conflicts, a jaw-dropping 20 are currently impacting the lives of children around the world, she said.
"We have thousands of children killed, maimed, schools attacked and children by the thousands recruited in many places," she said.
"Children are not only affected, they are specifically targeted."