Shocking evidence has emerged that Boko Haram, an Islamist-armed extremist group operating in the Lake Chad Basin, used children as suicide bombers. This is both a war crime and a crime against humanity. On August 1, 2020, Boko was using Haram Suicide bomber in an unlawful attack on a displaced person’s property in the far north of Cameroon. At least 17 civilians, including five children and six women, and at least 16 injured, were killed in the attack. The nature of the attack shows a callous and utter disregard for human life that is consistent with the most brutal atrocities in history.
A few weeks later, on August 18, 2020, the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA), a splinter cell from Boko Haram, admitted hundreds of Kukawa citizens in Borno state hostageafter a shootout with the Nigerian military. Many Kukawa residents had only returned to their homes under military escort on August 2, having lived in displacement camps since a bloody attack on their city caused them to flee in November 2018.
Over the past year, Boko Haram and ISWA have steadily stepped up their attacks in northeastern Nigeria and other parts of Lake Chad, murdering hundreds of people and stepping up the recruitment of child soldiers from the camps of the displaced. Millions of civilians have had no choice but to move to poor camps across the region, but they are not safe even there. Despite efforts by local authorities over the past two years to encourage the displaced to return home, Boko Haram has found new ways to chase them down, including attacking villages after returning home and calling IDP camps Seedbed for recruits, including, most worryingly, children.
What is Boko Haram?
Boko Haram loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden”. It was established in northeastern Nigeria in 2009 to overthrow Nigeria’s secular government. The group made headlines in August 2014 when they kidnapped 276 School girl from the city of Chibok in the state of Borno, Nigeria. Its activities have since expanded to neighboring countries in the Lake Chad Basin, including Chad, Niger and North Cameroon.
In 2015, Boko Haram separated and gave way to the formation of its offshoot ISWA, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Both groups have wreaked havoc across the Lake Chad region and carried out heinous, indiscriminate attacks on civilians. These attacks have included murders, kidnappings, widespread looting and looting of civilian property, and suicide bombings on civilian infrastructure such as marketplaces, schools, churches, displacement camps, bus stops and mosques. The UN Bureau for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that Boko Haram has killed 35,000 civilians since 2009 2.7 million remain displaced in northeastern Nigeria due to the constant uncertainty.
Atrocities under way
Boko Haram and ISWA are guilty of many crimes, but perhaps none as heinous as the recruitment and use of children as fighters and suicide bombers. Recruiting children under the age of 15 into the armed forces – which are made even more hideous when armed as human bombs – is a war crime under international humanitarian law. Non-state actors can commit war crimes, so armed extremist groups such as Boko Haram and ISWA can also be charged with these crimes.
Many agree that the ongoing clashes between these Islamist groups and the governments of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger constitute an armed conflict under international humanitarian law. Even if the actions of Boko Haram are perceived outside of a conflict, they are still crimes against humanity. These are widespread or systematic violations against the civilian population, committed by either state or non-state actors during times of war or peace.
The military conscription of children by the armed forces is one of the driving forces behind atrocities worldwide. Child soldiers violate international law, regardless of whether the children are abducted against their will or join voluntarily. Children in crisis serve as a refillable resource to fuel endless cycles of violence for those who want to create chaos in order to achieve power and prosperity in fragile states. Recruiting children also destroys the fabric of society and robs already traumatized communities of their future and their ability to rebuild.
What can you do
Congress tries to fight the scourge of child soldiers, among other things, through the violation of children’s rights through the resolution of the Congress to end violence against children worldwide (H.Res. 230 / S. Res. 112). The resolution calls on Congress to develop and implement a coordinated strategy to combat violence against children worldwide. It recognizes child soldiers as a major manifestation of this violence affecting children in places like South Sudan, Syria, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The resolution recommends the implementation of the INSPIRE intervention package – a set of seven evidence-based strategies developed by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Agency for International Development were developed (YOU SAID).
The House of Representatives passed H. Res. Now we need your help to make sure the Senate passes the resolution too, to develop a comprehensive strategy to help children in crisis. This is a critical first step in strategically prioritizing child protection in US development work overseas. So that one day we never have to hear the words “suicide bomber” again.
JWW’s work on child soldiers
While JWW does not currently have any local projects in the Lake Chad Basin, we work intensively with local organizations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Child soldiers remain a major problem and a major driver of the ongoing atrocities in the country. We recently worked with one remarkable organization whose employees risk their lives every day to negotiate directly with armed group leaders to release child soldiers, sex slaves and child servants in their ranks. Last year alone, our collaboration resulted in the acquisition of Over 1,400 children! That is 1,400 children who, thanks to your support, are given a new life.
While most of these children were reunited with their families and integrated into their communities before COVID-19 hit the Congo, around 500 children are being forced to stay in our partner’s transit centers while much of the country remains locked down in response to COVID-19. JWW quickly mobilized to award an emergency COVID-19 scholarship to care for these children and their caregivers Food and Personal protective equipment (PSA) until they can be reunited with their families once the COVID restrictions are lifted. Please go to JWW’s brand new one MARKETPLACE FOR GOODHere you can buy food and masks that will preserve and protect these children during this critical transitional period. Give back your childhood with us and stand up for the protection of children affected by war everywhere.
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