“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