Militant Islamist group Boko Haram is increasingly forcing children to carry out suicide bombing attacks, often drugging them before their missions, Unicef has warned.
The use of children as suicide bombers has surged this year, with the number of attacks since January nearly reaching the total for last year.
In the first three months of the year, 27 children have been used in suicide attacks, compared to nine cases in the same period in the previous year, and 30 children being used for bombings in all of 2016, Unicef said.
Since 2014, 117 attacks have been carried out by children in the Lake Chad basin, with nearly 80 per cent of the bombs strapped to girls.
Unicef's Marie-Pierre Poirier said the very sight of children near marketplaces and checkpoints now sparks fear, resulting in nearly 1,500 children being detained last year across Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Ms Poirier said: "These children are victims, not perpetrators. Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible."
The Boko Haram insurgency is now in its eighth year with little sign of ending, having claimed over 20,000 lives.
Its child kidnappings gained global notoriety after the abduction of more than 200 girls from the town of Chibok in Nigeria's northeast in 2014, three years ago.
Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands, often raping them, forcing them to become suicide bombers, help the militants in their conflict or marry fighters, Unicef said.
The rise of Boko Haram
The rise of Boko Haram
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The leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau delivers a message. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the mass killings in the north-east Nigerian town of Baga in a video where he warned the massacre “was just the tip of the iceberg”. As many as 2,000 civilians were killed and 3,700 homes and business were destroyed in the 3 January 2015 attack on the town near Nigeria's border with Cameroon
2/19 Boko Haram
People displaced as a result of Boko Haram attacks in the northeast region of Nigeria, are seen near their tents at a faith-based camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Yola, Adamawa State. Boko Haram says it is building an Islamic state that will revive the glory days of northern Nigeria's medieval Muslim empires, but for those in its territory life is a litany of killings, kidnappings, hunger and economic collapse
3/19 Boko Haram
Nitsch Eberhard Robert, a German citizen abducted and held hostage by suspected Boko Haram militants, is seen as he arrives at the Yaounde Nsimalen International airport after his release in Yaounde, Cameroon on 21 January 2015
4/19 Boko Haram
Officials of the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) visit victims of a bomb blast in Gombe at the Specialist Hospital in Gombe. According to local reports at least six people were killed and 11 wounded after a bomb blast in a marketplace in Nigeria's northeastern state of Gombe on 16 January 2015. Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been blamed for a string of recent attacks in the North East of Nigeria
5/19 Boko Haram
People gather at the site of a bomb explosion in a area know to be targeted by the militant group Boko Haram in Kano on 28 November 2014
6/19 Boko Haram
People gather to look at a burnt vehicle following a bomb explosion that rocked the busiest roundabout near the crowded Market in Maiduguri, Borno State on 1 July 2014. A truck exploded in a huge fireball killing at least 15 people in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the city repeatedly hit by Boko Haram Islamists
7/19 Boko Haram
President Goodluck Jonathan visits Nigerian Army soldiers fighting Boko Haram
8/19 Boko Haram
Displaced people from Baga listen to Goodluck Jonathan after the Boko Haram killings
9/19 Boko Haram
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan speaking to troops during a visit to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State; most of the region has been overrun by Boko Haram
10/19 Boko Haram
Members of the Nigerian military patrolling in Maiduguri, North East Nigeria, close to the scene of attacks by Boko Haram
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Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, appears in a video in which he warns Cameroon it faces the same fate as Nigeria
12/19 Boko Haram
South Africans protest in solidarity against the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram and what protesters said was the failure of the Nigerian government and international community to rescue them, during a march to the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg
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Boko Haram militants have seized the town in north-eastern Nigeria that nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped from in April 2014
14/19 Boko Haram
A soldier stands guard in front of burnt buses after an attack in Abuja. Twin blasts at a bus station packed with morning commuters on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital killed dozens of people, in what appeared to be the latest attack by Boko Haram Islamists, April 2014
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The aftermath of the attack, when Boko Haram fighters in trucks painted in military colours killed 51 people in Konduga in February 2014
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The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau (with papers) in a video grab taken in July 2014
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Ruins of burnt out houses in the north-eastern settlement of Baga, pictured after Boko Haram attacks in 2013
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A Boko Haram attack in Nigeria, 2013
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Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader
One 16-year-old girl from Chad lost her legs after being drugged and forced by Boko Haram to take part in an attempted suicide attack on a crowded market, according to the report.
Though the girl survived, her family initially rejected her "out of fear of stigma".
Children who escape Boko Haram are often held in custody by authorities or ostracised by their communities and families.
"Society's rejection of these children, and their sense of isolation and desperation, could be making them more vulnerable to promises of martyrdom through acceptance of dangerous and deadly missions," Unicef said in its report.
Earlier this year, an 18-year-old woman who was stopped while wearing an explosive vest in Maiduguri said she had been given N200 (50p) for food by militants who instructed her to "detonate the explosives anywhere we saw any form of gathering."
She added: “They said if we press the button, the bomb would explode and we will automatically go to heaven."Reuse content