alessio-lin-167186-min

Protecting Children’s Rights and Preventing Their Use by Terrorists

By: Dustin Johnson

Header photo: Unsplash/Alessio Lin

A recent in-depth piece in the Washington Post examined the ISIS-directed or inspired attacks that have taken place in Germany over the last year, all perpetrated by children. 10 children, mostly teenagers, were involved in 5 different plots or attacks over the past year, and the German intelligence agencies have identified another 120 children suspected of having been radicalized to violence.

Many of the children involved in these plots come from an at-risk background, making them easier for ISIS to recruit. According to the Post:

“Religious extremist propaganda, Salafist propaganda, can only work if it is addressed to an audience that is already marginalized and feeling uncomfortable in society,” said Goetz Nordbruch, co-director of Horizon, a German group offering counseling and workshops on Islamophobia in German schools. “The public discourse is turning against these kids, against Islam… It is making it harder for them to feel both Muslim and German.”

As ISIS loses ground in Iraq and Syria to the various forces fighting it, they have focused more on directing or inspiring attacks in Western countries, through propaganda and communication over social media and messaging apps. Children are intentionally targeted. As the Post article relates:

“The amount of Islamic State videos and propaganda aimed at children has really jumped in recent months,” said Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and Deradicalization Studies. “We haven’t seen anything quite like this, not on this scale and of this quality. They know that in the West, you don’t expect a 10-year-old to be a terror suspect.”

This shows that ISIS is intentionally recruiting children for these attacks due to the advantage they bring from being less likely to be detected. In the case of Germany, laws constrain the ability of the intelligence services to track children suspected of being radicalized, while in general we do not usually assume that a child might pose such a threat.

Unfortunately, growing awareness of this latest challenge from ISIS does not always lead to balanced responses based in a thorough understanding of the use of children by ISIS. Germany’s response has included positive steps such as deradicalization programs for children, while changes to laws governing how intelligence and law enforcement authorities can track children will need to be carefully balanced to both protect children’s rights and the safety of the public.

Other countries have not provided as nuanced a response however. One need not look further than the United States, where the now-rescinded and highly controversial travel ban led to the temporary detention of a 5-year-old American boy of Iranian ancestry by border patrol agents. White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended this action by saying “To assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.”

While ISIS is clearly seeking to exploit gaps in counter-terrorism when it comes to children, such an action as described above is not what is needed in response. Given the chaotic implementation of the travel ban and the age of the detained boy, it is certain that there was no actual evidence indicating a threat, and he was detained simply for who he was. Such an approach to countering the use of children by terrorists is both counterproductive and immoral.

An effective strategy that protects human rights, children, and the public must be primarily preventative, while equipping law enforcement with the right abilities to prevent attacks, and providing programs to deradicalize children who do become involved in groups like ISIS, or any other terrorist group of any ideology.

Prevention should encompass, inter alia, interfering with the ability of adult terrorists to recruit and inspire children by countering propaganda and targeting law enforcement action at them; addressing factors that increase vulnerability to recruitment and inspiration such as prejudice against Muslims; and equipping law enforcement with the tools and knowledge to more effectively counter the use of children by terrorists while preventing the use of counterproductive strategies.

To share this story, use the shareable below on your social media.

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

Quick5-min

Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

Quick5-min

Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

2 November 2011. El Fasher: Sheij Aldine is a member of the  center of the Sudanese Association for Disabled People in El Fasher. He works at the workshop, making crutches, wheelchairs and special shoes for disabled persons. He is also disabled and he is given a motorbike by the organization to facilitate his mobility. 
The organization takes care of all disabled people in Darfur.
Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNAMID

Exploring the Intersection of Child Soldiering and Disability

By: Dustin Johnson

Despite the considerable research into the use of child soldiers over the past two decades, there are still many areas that remain under-explored in the literature. One of these is the intersection of disability and the experience of child soldiering. Last year, Dallaire Initiative research officer Dustin Johnson and executive director Dr. Shelly Whitman wrote an article for a special issue of the journal Third World Thematics on child soldiers and disability, which was recently published.

In this article we explore the current state of knowledge on child soldiers and disability, opportunities that the post-conflict environment can provide for improved inclusion, and what avenues exist for us to be more inclusive in our own work. It is important when considering disability to view it from the social perspective: inevitably, some people have physical, mental, or sensory impairments which interfere with their everyday functioning. Disability results when stigma, ignorance, and lack of inclusivity marginalizes impaired people and prevents them from fully participating in society. Disability can be addressed by changing the attitudes, policies, and environments which disable.

There has been little research previously specifically on child soldiers and disability; most relevant studies have either focused on specific mental or physical injuries which may lead to disability, or on disability among children or ex-combatants in general. There is a high likelihood that at least some child soldiers will emerge from conflict with a disability, leaving them even more marginalized. Therefore, it is critical that services provided to demobilizing child soldiers be inclusive, and support the specific needs to disabled children. Civilian children also face many of the same traumas which can lead to impairment, and should not be neglected.

There are often substantial changes to national laws and institutions during the post-conflict reconstruction period, providing a valuable window to shift norms and promote inclusivity. Reconstruction of physical infrastructure also provides an opportunity to build it into international accessibility standards. When it comes to child soldiers, the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) process is the most important area for inclusivity. Current international standards for DDR make some advances in this area, but a more explicit consideration of disability is needed to ensure that accessibility is not ignored as it too often is. Marginalization due to disability could potentially leave children vulnerable to re-recruitment in the future, so inclusive DDR is important for conflict prevention as well as being just.

The researching and writing of this paper was our first intentional examination of the intersection of disability and our work. A number of opportunities exist for us to be more inclusive in our work, including partnering with disability focused organizations in countries we work in, and using our high-level advocacy contacts to advance inclusivity in relation to child soldiers.

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

Quick5-min

Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

child solidiers

ISIS and Child Soldiers: Breaking Cycles of Conflict

By: Dustin Johnson

In January, the Times of London published an insightful feature by Anthony Loyd about the use of children by ISIS. In the article, Loyd meets a 21-year-old man who had fought for ISIS whom Kurdish security forces had captured and tortured. The man had been recruited at the age of 13 by ISIS’s predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and had spent the previous 8 years fighting and killing for the group. In this young man he sees someone whose formative years of childhood have been stolen, but has also missed the normal experiences that lead to adulthood:

There was something else there that lent him the fractured aura of youth: a peculiar absence of adulthood. As if somehow all that should have naturally evolved within his mind during his teenage years – rationale and reason, preconcepts and the roots of self-belief – were missing. Just the frightful postgraduation of terror remained, so that seated before me he was at once the echo of a lost boy and the whisper of an unformed man.

Loyd goes on to discuss the thorough system of indoctrination and normalization to violence ISIS uses on children to provide an unending supply of dedicated fighters, explicitly planning for a generational war. The longer ISIS continues to fight and be able to recruit children, the more Iraq, Syria, and the international community will have to deal with this challenge. For those under the age of 18 who are removed from the group, proper rehabilitation and deradicalization are needed, and there are positive signs for the success of such problems as Loyd discusses, and the Dallaire Initiative has advocated for in our partnership with the Quilliam Foundation.

For those who were recruited as children but are now adults, such as the young man Loyd interviews, trickier questions are raised, similar to those now facing the International Criminal Court in the case of Dominic Ongwen. For someone who is recruited as a young child, indoctrinated, and forced to commit violence by adults, what degree of responsibility before the law should they face? While the case of Ongwen is particularly extreme, as he rose from an 11-year-old abductee to be one of the top commanders in the Lord’s Resistance Army, this challenge will have to be faced for hundreds if not thousands of children who fought for ISIS.

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

533679-min

Preventing the Use of Child Soldiers in Somalia

Dustin Johnson

By: Dustin Johnson

This month, the United Nations released their latest numbers on the use and recruitment of children by armed forces and groups in Somalia. These new numbers are sobering: between April 2010 and July 2016, 6,163 children were verified by the UN as having been recruited. These numbers are meticulously collected and confirmed, meaning that the actual number of children recruited is likely much higher.

The terrorist group Al Shabaab, which is fighting against the Somali government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping force, was responsible for 70% of the recruitment. Children as young as nine were used by Al Shabaab, instructed in using guns and sent to fight. Others were also used as porters, spies, and cooks. The UN believes that more than half of the members of Al Shabaab are under the age of 18. When a group of Al Shabaab members were captured in Puntland in March 2016, 60% of them were children.

However, Al Shabaab is not the only group that recruits children. The UN also verified 920 cases of children used by the Somali National Army (SNA) during the same time period. Previous UN reports have also found that militias allied to the Somali government have recruited children.

These latest numbers only serve to reinforce the fact that the use and recruitment of children is an integral part of the conflict in Somalia, especially for Al Shabaab. While Al Shabaab does command some popular support, the preponderance of youth in its ranks demonstrates their reliance on soldiers who can more easily be coerced, forced, and indoctrinated than adults. Consequently, the Somali government and AMISOM need to be prepared to address the use of children in the Somali conflict.

Since January 2015, the Dallaire Initiative has had a Child Protection Advisor embedded in AMISOM in Somalia, the first such position in an African Union mission. Over the course of the year, we will be conducting multiple trainings of personnel from AMISOM, and SNA, and the Somali National Police on countering the use of child soldiers, with the support of the British Peace Support Training Team in Kenya. This groundbreaking work will help to better protect children in Somalia and enhance the capabilities of Somali and African forces to bring a sustainable end to the conflict.

Use the shareable below on your own social media to share this story.

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

Quick5-min

Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

UNSG_UNSCAddress-min

Child Soldiers and Peace: Mapping a New Pathway to Prevention

By: Dustin Johnson

Last Tuesday, Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations Secretary-General, delivered the first address of his term to the United Nations Security Council. In it, he emphasized the need for the UN and the international community to pursue a more preventative approach to peace and security, saying “we spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them. People are paying too high a price. Member States are paying too high a price. We need a whole new approach.”

At the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, we agree with this approach to peace and security. For too long, the international community has addressed the use of child soldiers in a largely reactive manner, seeking to demobilize them from armed forces and groups and rehabilitate them back into society. While this approach is important, it is also not sufficient. The Dallaire Initiative aims to prevent children from becoming soldiers in the first place, avoiding the damage to peace and stability, society, and the children themselves through our training, research and advocacy activities. As part of our work on prevention, we collaborate with our colleagues in the United Nations on many fronts, including with UNICEF and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to advance the protection of children from armed conflict around the world.

As we enter a new year, which Secretary-General Guterres has declared will be a “year for peace”, we look forwards to continuing and expanding our collaboration with the United Nations. At the Dallaire Initiative we will continue to improve and expand our delivery of training on preventing the use of child soldiers to security sector actors around the world, while conducting world-class research on children and armed conflict, including expanding our previous work on the importance of children to early warning for mass atrocities and conflict prevention. In the words of the new Secretary-General, “prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority. If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions.”

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

suicide-bomber-interaction-2-min

Child Suicide Bombers: A Tactical Innovation and a Moral Outrage

By: Dustin Johnson

One of the most disturbing uses of children in modern warfare is as suicide bombers. This practice has been seen in a number of countries around the world in recent years, particularly in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. Most recently, on January 4th, three girls presumably used by the Boko Haram terrorist group attempted to bomb a market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Madagali. As they approached a checkpoint, they were confronted by local security forces who then fired on the girls, sadly killing all three, but preventing what could have been a much worse tragedy.

Through the work that the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative has done on understanding the use of children as soldiers, we have illuminated some of the reasons why an armed group would choose to equip a child as a suicide bomber. The primary reason is that normally security sector actors are less suspicious of children, and therefore are less likely to thoroughly search them at a checkpoint or assume that their behaviour is suspicious. Armed groups can take advantage of this to move a suicide bomber into position with less chance of being caught. Should security sector actors discover that the child has a bomb, they may be less likely to immediately fire on them as they are a child.

One of the scenarios that we role-play in our training for security sector actors is on encountering a child suicide bomber. In such a situation, our training helps security sector actors to attempt to deescalate the situation and prevent the child from detonating their bomb, thereby both saving the child’s life, and providing valuable intelligence that can be gathered from examining a bomb, while ensuring that their utmost priority is protecting themselves and nearby civilians from harm.

Sometimes, through the actions of security sector actors and the unwillingness of a child to take their own life and those of others, such attacks are prevented and lives saved, such as the case last year of a 15-year-old boy in Iraq sent to attack the city of Kirkuk. He was successfully detained and disarmed by security forces, rather than being killed, after deciding he could not carry out the bombing his ISIS commanders had ordered him to.

Newsletter

Archives

Categories