Every year in Africa, groups of children are taken captive by armed groups in search of media attention, to strengthen their respective trading portfolios, to use them as human shields, to convert them into soldiers or to use their bodies.
Kidnappers are also paid by businesses and politicians who use the minors in religious ceremonies, as a form of sacrifice hoping to invoke power and money, amongst other things.
According to international organisations, this was last witnessed during the elections in Nigeria and the Sudan in March and April, when the number of child abductions rose in districts where election meetings were being held, and around voting dates.
It was recently acknowledged in Côte d’Ivoire that a surge of rituals which caused the death and mutilation of 21 minors since December 2014 had been uncovered. According to police sources in the country it was an incident related to the general elections in December.
In Nigeria, South Sudan, Cameroon and Chad, forced captivity is more frequent and notable due to the mass abduction of minors being used as a new tactic of extremist armed groups to terrorise, subjugate and humiliate whole communities.
Nigeria is the African country in which this type of action is most common. The world has not forgotten that 276 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno State over 400 days ago.
An armed group from the Nigerian radical sect Boko Haram kidnapped the minors who were studying for final year exams in this school.
Some of those who escaped their kidnappers confirmed that many of these girls are now being used by their kidnappers as sex slaves, others have been forcibly converted to Islam and trained as fighters, porters and lookouts for Boko Haram attacks in the north east of Nigeria.
These young girls in captivity are also innocent victims used in suicide attacks, entrusted to go to populated areas naively carrying packages with explosive charges which their captors detonate from a distance.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported the disappearance of hundreds of children a few weeks ago in Wau, in the west of the youngest oil state in Africa, South Sudan.
According to this source, the children kidnapped in Africa have shattered futures due to losing their childhood and being obligated to become soldiers or taken to other countries.
The director of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) confirmed that the kidnapping of girls and boys today is a new war tactic of extremist armed groups such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram, to terrorise, subjugate or humiliate whole communities.
The CRC disclosed that many minors kidnapped in Western Africa end up used in black magic rituals and become victims of forced labour and sexual abuse in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile the UN believes that a large percentage of the 300,000 youngsters in the ranks of armed groups around the world belong to armed organisations in Africa.
The north of Nigeria, conquered by the terror of Boko Haram, has now become the territory par excellence for the use of these child soldiers.
At the end of June more than 50 people were killed and a further 100 wounded in the north east of Nigeria, during a suicide attack carried out by two girls of Boko Haram, presumably kidnapped by this organisation in the same region.
In another attack, a female suicide bomber from the same extremist sect killed 12 Islamic worshippers in a mosque in the town of Malari, close to Konduga, in the same region as the previous one.
Dozens of child soldiers, possibly drugged, took part in three attacks carried out almost consecutively by the Boko Haram sect in Borno.
This incursion caused around a hundred and fifty deaths, the worst killings caused by a terrorist group since the Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari came into power on the 29th May of this year.
The United Nations recently confirmed that the mass abduction of children has become a new war tactic of extremist armed groups. The use of minors as soldiers is illegal under international law and is categorised as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.
Child soldiers are understood to be any children under the age of 18 who are recruited by armed forces or belligerent groups and used as fighters, cooks, loaders, spies or for sexual purposes, amongst other activities.
Africa is suffering a real crisis of child abduction, but these mass actions are not new in the history of this continent, where it dates back to the end of the last century.
Minors are deliberately used because they can be manipulated more easily, and indoctrinated to commit crimes and atrocities without asking why.
According to the UN, captivity is the first step to committing other violations against minors, such as murder and mutilation, forced recruitment and sexual violence. (PL)
(Translated by Emily Russell)