“Our children are the rock in which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, those who care for and protect our people.” These were words of wisdom by Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, a South African antiapartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa.
Cases of children abduction by the Al Shabaab militants have been on the rise in the Northern and Coastal regions of Kenya. Just recently, 60-year-old Rukiyyah Abdu, a single mother from Mombasa, took her plight to the Nation Africa platform, where she agonized about losing her four children to the militia group. Likoni MP Mishi Mboko also recently addressed her constituents and warned them that “If your child joins Al Shabaab, just know that you no longer have a child. You cannot survive after being recruited by a terrorist group. The child will be killed by Al Shabaab or the government,” she asked them to be on guard, and pay close attention to their children.
Over the past decade, Al Shabaab has recruited/ abducted thousands of children. They have ordered elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and communities in rural areas to provide children as young as 8 years old for indoctrination. The armed group has opened several large Islamic religious schools in areas under their control and pressured teachers to retain and teach the Al Shabaab curriculum in the schools. These children are then taken to training facilities where they are trained to be militants of the terror group. They are exposed to extreme forms of violence, they bear arms, and participate in hostile acts. They consequently become normalized to violence, and for the children born into terrorism, this upside-down world is the only one they know.
The use of children has strengthened Al Shabaab’s tactical strategies because they use the children as human shields, by placing them as front-line fighters in combat, as well as sending them on spy missions and using them as porters and messengers. The Al Shabaab militia group proclaims to be fighters for the Qur’an, yet what they do is in direct contrast to what the Qur’an states about children. Both the Qur’an and the Bible state that children are a precious gift from God ‘Allah’, and it is the responsibility of all adults to protect and care for them.
All children have a sense of awe and wonder that can lead them to connect with and derive meaning from the world around them. Every child deserves a childhood in all its fullness, surrounded by protective families and communities, free from violence and with the opportunity to thrive as other children do.