Recently the news cycle has been awash with the issue of child soldiers being deployed in Mozambique by the terror group Al Shabaab. But this is not only being done by Al Shabaab but also other insurgency groups in and around the region. The Allied Democratic Forces now aligned to ISIS have also been constantly engaging child soldiers in their wars.
To the terrorist and violent extremist groups, children are not only a considerable tactical advantage in warfare but they are, due to their age and ongoing physical and mental development and vulnerability, particularly psychologically malleable. They are easy to control, groom and manipulate, especially to carry out fatal missions.
In the past few years, the international community has been increasingly confronted with the recruitment and exploitation of children by terrorist and violent extremist groups. Estimates indicate that, since 2009, about 8,000 children have been recruited and used by Boko Haram in Nigeria. In 2015 alone, the United Nations verified 274 cases of children having been recruited by ISIL in the Syrian Arab Republic. The United Nations verified the existence of centres in rural Aleppo, Dayr al-Zawr and rural Raqqah that provided military training to at least 124 boys between 10 and 15 years of age. Verification of the use of children as foreign fighters has increased significantly, with 18 cases involving children as young as 7 years of age.
It does not help that thousands of children are being trafficked by terrorist and violent extremist groups and yet these most vulnerable children are rarely recognized or treated as victims. They are feared, rejected and stigmatized. Their social reintegration once they escape the group or are rescued is deeply problematic and always uncertain.
It should be clear that the recruitment of children into armed or violent extremist groups constitutes a form of trafficking in persons. Just as child trafficking obviously involves the act of recruitment for the purposes of exploitation, so does child recruitment (an act) into violent extremist groups (for the purposes of exploitation) falls within the ambit of the definition found in the United Nations’ Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.