Terrorist groups are usually happy when they fill a void that exists in the governance of a country. They provide salaries to their foot soldiers for them to support their families. They also make sure that people have access to social services like schools and hospitals. In general, they do what the local or national government is unable to do. However, in return, violence and extremism become the governing rule. Terrorism is not only an economic activity but it is also motivated by personal frustration and deep seated problems in society. Essentially, two main causes of terrorism are social and political injustices as well as the belief that threat and violence are the solution for problems. People often choose terrorism to pursue justice. Basic rights are violated and social and political injustices have been witnessed in too many countries. Very few governments have the political will to provide equal opportunity for all. Organized crimes become common in situations when communities are stripped off their rights or evicted from their lands. Belief in violence and threats as the most effective ways of bringing change is another major cause of terrorism and activities of organized criminals. Terrorists imply that violence is justified if it brings change. Historically, many terrorists confessed to have chosen terrorism after long attempts to find justice and they were left with no choice other than join terrorist groups. The explanation of the causes of terrorism may be difficult to illustrate because at times, it appears too simple or theoretical. However, a close analysis of widely understood terror groups may confirm these two reasons as the major causes. This article seeks to establish the major causes of recruitment of child soldiers in crime and terrorism and the approaches that has been used to deal with the menace.
Officials and independent bodies across different terrorism-affected countries indicate children are considered by terror groups as the most efficient alternatives for adult combatants (Kennedy-Pipe, Clubb, & Mabon, 2015). This becomes possible because children are more vulnerable to capturing and easier to indoctrinate and train to be loyal fighters. They also make efficient fighters because at their growth stage, they may have not developed a sense of fear of death. According to the United Nations Human Rights, the use of child soldiers in armed conflicts is considered as the worst form of child labor (“Root Causes”, n.d.). Since the early 2000s, this has been a concern that affects over 300,000 people under the age of 18 years in all parts of the world (Rosen, 2005). Most of these activities happen in the under-developed countries, with sub-Saharan Africa facing the worst situation. This phenomenon is not new. It existed during the Cold War due to the multiplication of intra-state conflicts (Kennedy-Pipe et al., 2015). Although the international legal standards were developed more than three decades ago, the problem of their implementation still exists because presence in most cases, child labor thrives in the context of a failed state, existing internal conflicts, failure of state actors, organized crimes, paramilitary organizations, vulnerable groups, and mobile displaced populations.
The Root Cause of Recruitment of Child Soldiers
There are various reasons that motivate war criminals in recruiting children as soldiers in their militia. Some of these factors are outlined below.
Voluntary and Forced Recruitment
In most cases, forced enlistment like kidnapping, abduction, and beating into submission have contributed to the highest rate of child labor force recruitment in war. There is no doubt that most armed groups continue to abduct and coerce children to join them. However, there are other push and pull factors that have resulted to children becoming more involved in armed conflicts. In most cases, when children join armed groups on a voluntary basis, it is often translated as a desperate attempt for survival
For long time, lack of money has remained a major motivator for children to join various economic activities where they are often exploited and abused. Poverty has also led to children voluntarily offering themselves to join armed forces and groups because at least some of their basic needs are addressed in these groups.
Various forms of discrimination have been termed as a key motivating factor. Ethnicity, tribalism, and religious identity have been the worst forms of discrimination that are linked with children having the notion of joining organized gangs. Discrimination also has the potential of mobilizing whole community to war, including children (“Root Causes”, n.d.). For example, when children witness the murder, torture, or rape of their parents, they might join criminal groups with the sole aim of vengeance.
Culture and Religion
Sometimes, war and crime are inherently instilled in a community’s culture. Children are lured into joining civil wars by their families and communities in order to take part in the communal defense. Some religions and cultures place great emphasis on the idea of martyrdom, attracting boys as well as girls to heroic deaths.
However, there still exists a big gap that needs to be explored in understanding the main reason and motivation of children engaged in armed conflicts (Briggs, 2005). Therefore, there is a dire need to undertake in-depth research in order to help the local and international community in taking preventive measures and respond to child recruitment and abuse.
Analysis of Children in War
The manipulation of children by terror groups has existed for several decades. Terror groups like ISIS, Pakistan Taliban, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, and other civil war criminals have become rampant in using children as the main source of labor to carry out their heinous activities. To them, this kind of move is considered strategic because it offers them intensified media attention they need to coach more members. Children offer less resistance, they are easier to indoctrinate, and they do not fully understand their mortality. In addition, children often appear less suspicious, which might be the reason why most of their missions are more successful. The use of children by terrorist groups may also indicate that they have difficulties recruiting adult fighters. This can be the best explanation as to why Boko Haram uses children for suicide bombing missions.
Legal and Global Intervention into the Problem of Child Soldiers
As Kennedy-Pipe et al. (2015) illustrate, today, the concept of a child soldier can be applied to almost 250,000 children in Africa. Mainly, such children live in 20 countries. Most of these countries are in Central and West Africa, some parts of Asia and the Middle East. In 1998, 31 countries were engaged in armed conflicts and 87% of them used child soldiers who were below 18 years, while 71% were below 15 years (Crenshaw, 1981). However, the number of terror groups that use child soldiers had tripled by 2002 and quadrupled by 2007 (Kennedy-Pipe et al., 2015). Since then, the figures have remained stable, and this may indicate that the international regulations against child abuse have been partly successful. The figures also lead to a conclusion that child soldiers are often used by irregular armed militias (Rosen, 2005).
In 1997, two protocols were added to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to help generalize and regulate application of global humanitarian laws related to civilian population caught up in conflict. The Rome Statute of the ICC was signed into in 1998 and it became enforceable in 2002. The convention declared any activity of enlisting children below the age of 15 years as a war crime. The other convention was the consideration by the International Labor Organization to classify child soldiering as the worst form of child labor in 1999.
The two protocols were amended in 2000 when the Convention of Rights of the Child raised the minimum age of children involved in armed conflicts from 15 to 18 years. Since 2002 when the law entered into force, approximately 123 countries have ratified the Optional Protocol. Since 2007, 66 governments have subscribed to Paris Principles and Guidelines for inclusion of children in armed groups and armed forces. Additionally, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1912 to assist in monitoring, reporting and providing compliance mechanisms in enforcing compliance amongst the groups using children in armed conflicts.
Despite the development of international legal standards in the last three decades, the progress of fighting children recruitment in war has been quite slow and uneven. Even in the existent of resolutions and statements of intent, the situation may be getting worse. Various resolutions by the UNSC lack political will and overall progress on the ground. The most difficult part in applying these standards is caused by the fact that most of the cases involve failed states, minorities, vulnerable groups, intra-state conflicts, and displaced populations. This situation raises concerns on the growing rift between the developed countries and marginalized regions within the precincts of international community. Therefore, the authorities concerned should seek for better options and alternatives to fight the menace of child labor.