UNICEF on Thursday warned of an alarming surge in the number of children being used in conflict zones around the world as parties to conflicts ignore international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable.
The UN body said in a statement that in northern Nigeria and Cameroon, Boko Haram had forced at least 135 children to act as suicide bombers in 2017, almost five times the number in 2016.
''Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,'' said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Program.
''In conflicts around the world, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become standard tactics in conflicts from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar,'' the statement said.
''In Somalia, 1,740 cases of child recruitment were reported in the first 10 months of 2017,'' it added.
According to UNICEF, violence has forced 850,000 children to flee their homes, while more than 200 health centers and 400 schools were attacked in the Kasai region in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the course of 2017.
The agency estimates that 350,000 children have suffered from severe acute malnutrition in the embattled region.
In South Sudan, more than 19,000 children have been recruited into armed forces and armed groups, and over 2,300 children have been killed or injured since the conflict first erupted in December 2013, UNICEF said.
''In Yemen, nearly 1,000 days of fighting left at least 5,000 children dead or injured, according to verified data, with actual numbers expected to be much higher. More than 11 million children need humanitarian assistance. Out of 1.8 million children suffering from malnutrition, 385,000 are severely malnourished and at risk of death if not urgently treated," it added.
The statement further said that in Afghanistan, almost 700 children were killed in the first 9 months of the year.
''In the Central African Republic, after months of renewed fighting, a dramatic increase in violence saw children being killed, raped, abducted and recruited by armed groups,'' it added.