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Drastic increase in number of children used in suicide attacks

A Chadian soldier wearing reflective sunglasses observes the convoy ahead of him, as Chadian soldiers who are fighting in support of Central African Republic president Francois Bozize, ride on the road leading to Damara, about 70km (44 miles) north of the capital Bangui, Central African Republic Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. More than 30 truckloads of troops from Chad line the two-lane highway just outside of Damara, supporting government forces who want to block a new rebel coalition from reaching the capital, and Gen. Jean Felix Akaga, who heads a 10-nation regional force, says the town is a "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on." So said acclaimed poet Carl Sandburg. The presence of a child often induces smiles among those in close proximity. They may be at times loud, but sometimes we welcome their loudness because it quiets the chaotic world around us. Their infectious laughter, pure innocence, and reverberating joy often brings life into our monotonous days. But tragically, groups like Boko Haram are robbing children of their lives and communities of their hope.

UNICEF found that the number of children involved in "suicide" attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger has risen sharply over the past year. From four in 2014 to forty-four in 2015, more than seventy-five percent of the children involved in the attacks are girls. Approximately one in five suicide bombers was a child.

Manuel Fontaine, a regional director for UNICEF, wrote, "Let us be clear: these children are victims, not perpetrators." He noted that the way these groups are "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." Tragically, children are less people that represent the future and more objects that are sacrificed in order to bring about their vicious visions of the future.

Instead of loving children, they use them.

Last year alone, children were used in half of the attacks in Cameroon, one out of eight in Chad, and one out of seven in Nigeria.

The primary group that perpetuates these tragedies is Boko Haram. Since 2009, this group has killed some 17,000 people and forced more than 2.6 million to flee their homes. In 2014 alone, the group killed 6,644 people, a 300 percent increase from the previous year. Their numbers are greater than ISIS. With an initial desire to impose strict sharia law in mainly Muslim northern region of Nigeria, Boko Haram has expanded outside Nigerian borders into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

Though Islam translates as peace in English, Boko Haram appears to be bringing about the opposite. Their present actions are having detrimental effects on the future. Due to this destructive behavior, 1.3 million children have been displaced, roughly 1,800 schools have been closed, and over 5,000 have been separated from their parents.

A panel for the Promotion of Child Health noted: "Children are one-third of our population but all of our future." If the actions of Boko Haram and other such groups are any indication, the future appears bleak.

While this area of the world at this particular time may appear bleak, it wasn't always this way. One African proverb notes that children are the reward of life. And just like any reward, we hold it closely and tightly. But there will come a time when you can no longer hold the child. Then, as the proverb goes in Ethiopia, "If you cannot hold a child in your arms, hold it in your heart."

In the biblical narrative, we find that Jesus beautifully demonstrates this. Instead of keeping the children far away, he welcomes them closely. As one might imagine, while they crawl at his feet and climb on his lap, Jesus tells those assembled: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea (Mark 9:42).

Tragically, our arms cannot reach out to the children in Nigeria and other such countries. Though we can take heart in Jesus' words, we should also be mindful that they apply to us as well. Children are not objects to be used, but individuals to be loved.

As the African proverb goes: "Train a child the way he should go and make sure you also go the same way."

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