“Bring Back our Girls” was the resounding clarion call six years ago when Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria had shocked the world by kidnapping 219 schoolgirls from Chibok Secondary school. Some of the girls managed to escape captivity, some weren’t so lucky ending up as sex slaves and even worse some died in the process of abduction. Sadly this wasn’t an isolated incident, on February 26th 2021 279 schoolgirls were kidnapped at gunpoint from their boarding school in Nigeria, despite being released 3 days later. The girls’ abduction is the latest in a string of similar kidnapping cases. At least 42 people were abducted from a state-run school last month and later released, and more than 300 schoolboys were taken and later freed in December.
Kidnapping for ransom is rife in parts of Nigeria and has become a major security challenge. The jihadist group has also terrorised neighbouring countries, in October the government in Cameroon closed 60 schools on its northern border with Nigeria, to protect children and staff from attacks by the extremist group.
Much closer to our Kenyan borders, extremists have relied on children as disposable foot soldiers during attacks. They are aware that the mind of a child is easy to influence and train. Al Shabaab has kidnapped and forcefully recruited thousands of children mostly using them as suicide bombers and shooting targets for their militia group. Most of these children have been kidnapped from their homes, schools and orphanages leaving their caretakers dead so that they cannot be reported.
According to a report by the Secretary-General to the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR), 1,254 children (1,017 boys and 237 girls) were documented as child soldiers for the Al Shabaab between August 5th and November 4th 2020.
Children who have been recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups are victims of violence at multiple levels. They are often victims of extreme violence during their association with the group; which includes ferocious recruitment methods, enslavement, sexual exploitation, exposure to constant fear, indoctrination and psychological pressure.
They are often injured or killed in combat. At the same time, because of their young age and psychological malleability, such children may become particularly dangerous instruments of the groups that recruited them, as the children may be used for committing criminal offenses, including, in certain cases, acts of terrorism, war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The violation of children’s rights by Al Shabaab and other extremist groups has to stop. Children play a crucial role in the creation of peace, justice and robust institutions.