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Saturday, 21 November 2015

BOKO HARAM CHILDREN: ‘They repeatedly told us that the best jihad is the one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled

Since the Boko Haram insurgency started about six years ago in the North Eastern parts of the country, the crisis has not only resulted in the loss of lives of thousands of people, it has also created monumental humanitarian challenges as millions of people fleeing the war have been displaced from their abodes.

However, one aspect of the insurgency which has become a source of global concern is the conscription of children who serve as child soldiers and porters.

These children, whose ages range between 12 and 15 are used by Boko Haram leadership as suicide bombers after they have been made to undergo some forms of training including indoctrination, a situation whereby the kid sol­diers are brainwashed into believing that they are fighting holy war, and that they will end up in paradise if they lose their lives while on mis­sions against the enemy.

According to a recent report, these children soldiers who are often forcefully taken away from their parents make up 40 per cent of the insurgents total force strength of around 60,000.

How are these children soldiers recruited or conscripted by the Boko Haram? Investi­gations revealed that in several cases parents of the children are first eliminated right in the presence of their children before the children are taken into custody by the insurgents.

Recalling how he was conscripted by the Boko Haram sect, a 16-year-old boy, Baba­gana, who managed to escape from the insur­gent’s enclave in Bama, Borno State, said he was first asked to kill his parents on the day his village was invaded.

According to him: “When these people came to our village, they brought every­body out of my house, and while we were still pleading that our lives should be spared, I was separated from my parents and later asked to kill them. But I didn’t have courage to do so. While still confused about what to do, these Boko Haram people killed my par­ents. It was later when I got to their camp that I was told by other children I met that they were also asked to kill their parents. At the camp, I saw a lot of other children that have been recruited and some were as young as 10 years old.”

Babagana, who is in one of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs’ centres in Maiduguri, added that he was later told that the insurgents adopt this method of recruitment so that the children will have no person to fall back on af­ter their parents had been taken out.

After inducting these child soldiers, the in­surgents now unleash them as instruments of terror during raids on villages and military po­sitions.

It was also gathered that the insurgents often deliberately brutalized these kid soldiers and forced them to commit atrocities on fellow kid­nap victims and even their own families.

Some of these child soldiers that tried to es­cape from the insurgents camp have also been killed by Boko Haram.

Although the Federal Government has inten­sified its onslaught against the insurgents with the military running over, and liberating several villages, towns and communities hitherto held captive by Boko Haram, the insurgents have now resorted to guerilla warfare tactics.

In their new modus of operation, the insur­gents have resorted to using these child soldiers as suicide bombers. With their young age, these children soldiers usually don’t attract much suspicion, and in the process have been able to wreak havoc on soft targets like motor parks, shopping malls, churches, and even mosques.

Following fears of their children being conscripted as kid soldiers by Boko Haram, many parents, especially those resident in the rural communities in the north eastern axis of the country, usually leave the comfort of their homes every night with their children in tow and walk for hours in the night to take shelter in major towns during the night, and only for them to trek back home by daybreak.

Worried by the ugly development, military authorities have been launching series of at­tacks and counter-attacks to rescue women and children taken captive by Boko Haram.

In one of such operations two weeks ago, Ni­gerian Army rescued almost 300 children and women from the insurgents.

Last month, the Chadian Army who were working hand in hand with the Nigerian mili­tary authorities to flush out the extremists an­nounced that it had rescued 43 children held by Boko Haram in Damask, Borno State.

While lamenting about threats posed to children as a result of Boko Haram forced ab­duction and conscription, a senior government official in Borno State said recently:

“Thousands of people in the north eastern parts of the country mostly children are strug­gling to survive. Since the insurgency began in 2009, thousands of children have been ab­ducted to work as child soldiers, and porters. Some are even conscripted to serve as wives of the insurgents and their children. The number of children abducted have soared with nearly a thousand children abducted in the past 18 months alone.”

The official further lamented that the impact of the Boko Haram menace has caused the hu­manitarian situation in the state to deteriorate rapidly over the past one year.

Apart from the humanitarian crisis, other problem being suffered by the children include acute malnutrition. In some areas, including Maiduguri, Yola and Bama, malnutrition rates has been reported to be as high as 35 per cent among children.

Aside this, over 800,000 children are report­ed to be missing. These children are reported to have fled their homes to avoid being abducted by Boko Haram.

Also worrisome is the report that over 750,000 children who similarly fled Boko Ha­ram abduction are living in squalid conditions in overcrowded camps set up for displaced per­sons in Yola, and Maiduguri.

While expressing hope that more children soldiers abducted by the insurgents will be rescued by the military, a resident of Yola in Adamawa State, Alhaji Idris Abubakar urged President Muhammadu to provide incentives that will make the job of the military easier.

“War is not good. Boko Haram is evil. We thank God that things are getting better. However we want our children abducted by Boko Haram to be reunited with their par­ents. Some of these children are in school. We want them to return to school. We also want those Chibok girls to be rescued. Be­fore he came into office, Buhari promised to rescue them, and after becoming President, he has renewed his promise to rescue these girls, we want him to order the Army to res­cue these girls from these terrorists,” he de­clared.

It is estimated that over 250,000 child sol­diers are involved in various conflicts all over the world.

Child soldiers are reported to be active in at least 14 countries including Nigeria, Afghani­stan, Burma, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, DR Congo, India, Iraq, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Thailand and Yemen.

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