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Children Terrorists and Islamist Radicals – by A Z

“Children are not a zoo of entertainingly exotic creatures, but an array of mirrors in which the human predicament leaps out at us.” ― John Updike

Does this Video surprise you? If it does then you probably live on Mars. These images are everywhere. Movies, the media, online websites such as You Tube, magazines and documentaries around the world portray the use of children as terrorists by the Islamists, which goes one significantly barbaric step beyond the use of children soldiers that has been rife from Africa to Asia in the recent years. This is just another minor video that brings into focus the egregious use of children as combatants and terrorists. What is appalling is that these Islamists glorify the use of children terrorists under the cloak of religion. This is a menace that far overshadows the use of children soldiers in its savagery. The ranks of these militants from Mali to Pakistan have witnessed a steady increase of young children joining the ranks of terror and perpetrating acts of violence.  This imperils the future of millions of children and young adults in some of the most desolate and poverty stricken areas of the world from Sahel to Sahara to Central Asia. (For record, children terrorists were also deployed by LTTE in Sri Lanka but that menace now stands eradicated.)

Often the madrassas serve as the catchment area for recruiting Islamist Children terrorists and fighters. These children of illiterate and poverty-stricken parents in general are innocently gullible to the ways of the world and society, which makes their indoctrination and recruitment easy. For instance, the ability to utilize simple forms of propaganda in order to effectively recruit either forcibly or voluntarily has made the TTP very successful in their ability to use children as terrorists.

Al Qaeda and TTP actually have an organized approach and database that help them identify potential recruits as well as areas (like Waziristan or South Punjab) where their propaganda would be easily received. Similar to Hamas, parents within the TTP controlled zones who lose a child are treated with special status as ‘great hero families’. In an area struggling with primitive tribal customs, inhospitable terrain, religious indoctrination, and harsh economic conditions; this type of recruitment is sometimes seen by the poor parents as a double whammy involving a sublime religious service as well as a means to enhance their social acceptability. TTP sometimes visits madrassas and talks about government’s despoliation and their own successful attacks (teachers risk death if they try to prevent this access).

Recruitment is the first step. Indoctrination of a child militant is the second. Indoctrination involves brainwashing a child as a warrior whose worldview is limited to fighting for God’s will and then ascending to heaven to meet the virgins waiting to greet to him. Showing children the video of atrocities against Islamists and forcing children to swear allegiance to the organization and its ideology repeatedly throughout the day and night are just some examples of the means of indoctrination. Young recruits are continually taught that those outside the cause are enemies and should be killed, thus creating a sense of righteousness in targeting the ‘enemies’. Children are also shown videos that not only inure them to violence but also create a fixation with violence and killing within the children. Once recruitment and indoctrination are complete, the third and most important stage begins – the drilling of children into lethal militants. As one of the most lethal terrorist groups’ nexus on the planet, Al-Qaeda and Taliban have a developed fighter training scheme. The deployment of children in terrorist attacks has proved shocking to Pakistani and many other governments. Even Boston bombings involved a nineteen year old boy who must have been indoctrinated as a child. This shows that children terrorists are not only a concern in Nigeria, Syria, or Pakistan but need to be reckoned with round the world.

Can something be done to curb the growing recruitment of children as militants by the Islamists? One is economic development of the areas which are fertile in providing such recruits. The international community can and should do more, not by passing more international laws and UN resolutions but by throwing money at the problem and by coming up with proactive and real solutions. Two, the governments must show more resolve to fight fire with fire. Three, one of the main recruiting tools used by the Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and other terrorist groups is propaganda. Governments -like those of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria- need to be as resourceful and creative as terrorist organizations in keeping children from wanting to join the ranks of terrorists. Provide youth education programs and outreach centres that attempt to prevent children, especially young adults, from being sucked into terrorist activities. Four, madrassas and their curricula should be carefully monitored and their financial lifelines from the Gulf must be snapped.

Let’s hope that with economic benefits and education the future can be more promising for the children stuck in poverty in these Islamist fanaticism quagmires. However, that is a hope in the long haul.

“And when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful.”  ― Ruskin Bond, Scenes from a Writer’s Life

About the author

Asif Zaidi


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  • “If there is any lesson that we can draw from the
    experience of the past decade, it is that the use of child
    soldiers is far more than a humanitarian concern; that its
    impact lasts far beyond the time of actual fighting; and
    that the scope of the problem vastly exceeds the
    numbers of children directly involved”.
    – Kofi Annan – former UN Secretary General

  • This is part of the blatant terror and savagery taking place in a moral vacuum and religious cauldron of sorts, where thousands of people are maimed, raped, killed and abused is a microcosm of a problem afflicting many parts of the world. Human Rights Watch confirmed reports of child soldiers being used extensively in recent weeks by the rebel groups in Syria. Young children continue to be recruited and used as soldiers, scarring them for life. If children are born into and raised in a conflict zone, they are more likely to be de-sensitized to violence. They are also less likely to have been exposed to opportunities, such as education or jobs. That is the case in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Besides forced recruitment, many children volunteer to fight as they have few other options for a livelihood outside of an armed organization. Children are also easier to convince and control, and often require little or no payment, making them targets for terror groups and militias.

  • Economic integration is important. Many of these children have only ever known a violent life; left without options and opportunities, they are doomed to repeat the same cycle of conflict they grew up in.
    Finally there is need for affirmative political action. The army can play a pivotal role in this regard by stopping to support the radical Islamist organizations. Army’s physical and moral leadership and astute conviction is urgently needed to stop extremism in Pakistan. It needs to literally define a new narrative to end the use of Jihadists. Only its voice and influence carries sway. It should also strengthen the political government to prosecute the jihadists. The message must be clear and unequivocal. Playing favourites will not do

  • Pakistani society at large needs to ensure a global compact—including civil society, the private sector, government and army—which can work together to re-integrate the Jihadists back into society and make them productive individuals and their dignity restored. On the issue of children, values must be the guiding principle, not religion. As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future”. That future should not be jeopardized.

  • It seems to say that parents in Waziristan and South Punjab willingly and voluntarily consent to hand over their little children for suicide bombing. This is not only wrong but also insensitive and cruel to the families who are forced to hand in children for suicide bombing or their children are simply kidnapped by the terrorists for the purpose. This is what happens in Waziristan and also I think in South Punjab.
    Madrasa may do so to implicate parents in it is not correct. They send children to madrassa to have free food and some education, but not be become suicide bombers. You are right. There is a lot of jihadi propaganda (e.g. the example of father you gave) and thus nothing must tale at face values 2nd- the article asks for economic development to halt the phenomena of suicide bombing. Now, economic development is necessary and must be argued for on its won merit, not because of suicide bombing, which is not caused by a lack of economic development. Poverty has always been in these area, but not suicide bombing. Before economic development the terror centers in Waziristan and South Punjab have to be eliminated. Measures for economic development must follow it, not before it because how can you raise an infrastructure for economic development before the Taliban can bomb them. So first thing first.