This article has been written by Sikha Suman.
Table of Contents
On June 5 this year, Burkina Faso experienced the deadliest attack since 2015 that killed at least 160 civilians. This attack took place in the Solhan village located in north-eastern region of the province. Apart from scads of casualties, the statement by the government spokesperson Hussain Tambura that followed, stating that the majority of the assailants were children from 12-14 years of age, was more dejecting. As distressing the news might sound, unfortunately recruitment of children in militia and terrorist groups in Africa is nothing new. According to a report published by “the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers”, in 2015, more than 1,20,000 children below 18 and as young as 7 to 8 years of age participate in armed conflicts throughout Africa. The impoverished west African nations have seen a rise in this phenomenon with the instability and weak government in the regions.
Even though no group claimed responsibility for the attack, the west African nation’s government blamed the jihadists. The eastern region of Burkina Faso has been latched with violence and mayhem since the late 2018. The region has been dubbed as the red zone pertaining to the strong hold of various armed groups in the region. Fusillading crime rates and frequent attacks on government structures, representatives, schools, hospitals and various public establishments have marginalised the area further. Since 2018 about 2200 school have closed consequent to the attacks which affected about 3,30,000 children. Displacement of population is in millions. In this dilapidated state of the country, we have to askance at the government and international intervention in order to be satiated with the complete culpability on the transnational jihadists.
State’s Partake In Human Rights Atrocities
The eastern parts of Burkina Faso have historically provided for a smuggling base because of its land locked territory and penetrable borders. There has been a constant conflict for land and resources among people. the area has very poor access to water and electricity and more than half of people suffer from food insecurities. Social and economic marginalization runs deep in the region along with inaccessible topography, lack of state control and dilapidating state of communication system. The government’s failure is proliferated by the malfeasance of the armed forces.
The state’s forces have violated the human rights of the innocent and unarmed people repeatedly in the past years. In 2017 the G5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) created a counterterrorism joint taskforce with vision to develop and secure the Sahel region from the frequent terrorist attacks on civilians. Later, the UN reported about 600 unlawful killings during the counterterrorism mission by forces of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. A graph published by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), shows that the security forces have infiltrated more deaths to civilians in Mali and Burkina Faso than armed islamists or communal violence.
On April 9, 2020, the Burkinabe security forces killed 31 unarmed detainees of Fulani ethnic group. This is allegedly because of the recruitment of Fulani nomadic tribe by the IS since 2016. The violence has lately taken an ethnic tone that has been labelled as war crime by various rights groups. Human Rights Watch, an organisation documenting atrocities by security forces and pro-government armies on civilians, documented on July 8, 2020 about the remains of 180 men found in northern town of Djibo in Burkina Faso between November 2019 and June 2020. The page found evidence suggesting “extrajudicial executions” by government forces.
Child soldier in the form of child labour
Child labour is a systematic reduction in the human capital. The exploitation of children happening through the hazardous jobs have permanent effect on the mental and physical state of the person. Children being inducted in military is the worst form of child labour. They remain voiceless of the atrocities and are the easiest to procure in conflicting states. In the words of Olara Otunnu, “child soldiers are forced to give violent expression to hatreds of adult”. The depiction of child labour in the form of child soldier has to be the most dangerous exploitation of children. This has ill effects not only on the children but also on the society in form of violent outcomes.
Reasons for children participating in armed conflicts
- The children are the most zealous and fearless groups and hence serve as the best soldiers for the extremists. They are considered dispensable commodities and get thrust to the front line without any trainings.
- Child soldiers due to various reasons are at much more risk in disturbed areas as compared to their adult counterparts. Children are immature, they have the least self-control and serve as easy targets and efficient weapons. They are widely used as spies because they attract no attention and suspicion. As per a report by ILO on child soldiers, Only 21% of them are abducted into the circuit whereas 64% are voluntarily enrolled.
- Children are the voiceless victims to all kind of exploitation on hands of terrorists. They are used not only for dangerous combat, but also suffer physical abuse or rape on hands of combatants.
ILO on child soldiers
The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) and Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, 1999 (No. 190) was negotiated in June 1999 at the International Labour Conference. This was drafted with an intent to protect children from the most exploitative and hazardous forms of child labour, including slavery, prostitution, forced labour and work which jeopardizes the health, safety or morals of children. In the convention The United States, disagreed with the idea to put a broad prohibition on the use of child soldier and only consented to “forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflicts.” The strong resolute of the US comes from its practice of inducting 17 year olds into its army voluntarily with consent of parents.
The ILO and the US Department of Labor (USDOL) organised a conference in Washington where they announced a $13 million programme to rehabilitate the 300,000 child soldier caught in crossfire- including $7 million to develop all-inclusive strategies with the ILO for their benefit.
The Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) sets the general minimum age for employment of children at work at 15 years (13 for light work) and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18 (16 under certain strict conditions). It offers for the likelihood of primarily setting the general minimum age at 14 (12 for light work) where the economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed. This is done for the upliftment of the economic and social standards of underdeveloped nations.
Child Soldiers And International Laws
The international law has realised the gravity of the matter. Article 77(2) & Article 4(3)(c) of additional protocol I&II, along with article 22(2) of African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990 prohibit the participation of children in hostilities.
However, the legal age for induction of children in national armed forces and armed bodies in international law is 15 years as per Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. This has been frowned upon by various countries. The low age limit in the conventional law has amplified the presence of children in dangerous conflict areas. While ratifying the Convention, countries like Colombia, Netherlands, Spain and Uruguay expressed their dissent to the low age limit, favouring 18 years as the suitable limit. As a result, various bodies like the International red cross and red crescent movement, convention on the worst forms of child labour, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and Optional Protocol; to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, 2000 have favoured 18 years as minimum age for recruitment into armed services.
In Burkina Faso, 18-25 is considered as the legal age for voluntary recruitment in army. Thankfully there has been no evidence of children below the age of 18 being recruited by the state. However, this does not mean that children in the area are protected from military conflicts. The recent attack has proven evidential in mapping the spread of child soldier recruitments in Africa to newer conflicted areas. As per the document published by the Global Child Protection Area of Responsibility (CP AoR), there is a strong need for state to take actions for protection of children due to large percentage of child labour, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), child marriage, illiteracy and the recent phenomena of child recruitment in extremist groups.
- The bane of terrorism being introduced to children at a young age and the ease in manipulating them has a global impact. These issues stem from a lack of strong legal system in the backward states. There is a need for strong laws that would help in upliftment of the family and overall growth of children. Basic steps like education, food, healthcare, safety is primary.
- The atrocities committed by the state forces including the international bodies like counterterrorism taskforce needs to be dealt with stringent regulations. Strong condemnation from the G5 Sahel nations and other superpowers in international platforms have to be increased.
- International organizations like ILO, UNICEF and other bodies should repeatedly conduct research and give suggestions to these nations in order mainstream strong laws.
- At the root of all the problems lies the conflict in the soil. Collective efforts must be made by both domestic and international bodies to realise the reasons for the ongoing conflicts and draft action plans for dismantling the tension, eradicating poverty, illiteracy, economic restructuring and employment policies.
- Improving implementation to go beyond conventions by raising awareness, adopting and implementing legislation pragmatically.
- Developing strategies that are practical in order to pay attention to rehabilitation of these children, to help them overcome their trauma and prepare for a better future. These strategies need to include psychotherapy, schooling, vocational training, assistance parents in income generation and economic stability.
- Corruption and malpractice in the government should be curbed in order to establish a faith in the system by the citizens. The presence of revenge mentality that exists among the natives in certain circumstances often play out by enrolment of youth and children in the anti-state forces. The deep rooted anguish of people make it a very suitable environment for recruitment of mass by the terrorist organization.
Alex Latimer wrote in his book, the Space Race, “A war that included four-year-olds with AK 47s is a war that no one can win-been if some men… go home victorious”. The violence in eastern Burkina Faso has deep rooted social and economic reasons. The state’s absence and the impoverished local population has been devoid of basic necessities for too long. Corruption along with the state’s armed forces causing atrocities against its own people have created a perfect blend of ingredients for the terrorist groups to induct local population. Various reports and news agencies working in the area claim that the recruitment of people into the ISIS are less likely because of the ideological concurrence and more so owing to the revenge dynamic against the unlawful killings. In such disturbed dynamics, child safety should be one of the major concerns of the government as well as transnational bodies. Children are truly the future of a nation, the nation that has terror committed in hands of its own children is surely the most unfortunate. The ILO has taken actions to great extent for the eradication of this problem. However, we are still long way from realising the goals. The recent attack in Burkina Faso needs to be treated as a wake-up call for the nations at large towards the dilapidated state of affairs. The nations should collectively pledge to address the root causes of child soldiers, which is the absence of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. In the words of US Labour Secretary Chao “Child soldiers cannot cry out – but we can speak up for them.”
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