A baby was among the children used so far this year as human bombs by Islamist militants in northeast Nigeria as UNICEF says Boko Haram is employing ever more brutal methods.

The United Nations agency said that since the start of 2017, some 83 children have been used as human bombs, including 55 girls mostly under the age of 15. There were some 27 boys and one was a baby strapped to a girl.

The children are told to go to busy areas such as markets while explosives they carry are triggered from a distance.

The method by the militants has sows suspicion and fear of children who have been released or escaped from them.

"The use of children in this way is an atrocity. Children used as 'human bombs' are, above all, victims, not perpetrators," the UN's children's agency said according to a statement.

Since 2014, 127 children have been used as bombers in north-east Nigeria. The region is the scene of mass displacement with some 1.7 million people affected and the UN estimates that up to 450,000 children are in danger of severe malnutrition this year.

This week the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari said his government will toughen its campaign against Boko Haram.

"Terrorists and criminals must be fought and destroyed relentlessly so that the majority of us can live in peace and safety," Buhari said on Monday (21 August).

On 15 August, nearly 30 people were killed and 80 other wounded in a series of suicide bombings near Maiduguri in Borno state. Days later the leader of Boko Haram, Abu Bakr Shekau, warned that his group would remain in west Africa under his charge.

Abu Bakr Shekau
Abu Bakr Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram declares to leaders of West African governments in a video speech that the Islamic State (IS) will remain in the region, and under his local command. Site intelligence