More child soldiers being recruited for jihadi attacks
Awoken by gunshots in the middle of the night, Fatima Amadou was shocked by what she saw among the attackers: children.
Guns slung over their small frames, the children chanted “Allahu akbar,” as they surrounded her home in Solhan town in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region. Some were so young they couldn’t even pronounce the words, Arabic for “God is great,” said the 43-year-old mother.
“When I saw the kids, what came to my mind was that (the adults) trained these kids to be assassins, and they came to kill my children,” Amadou told The Associated Press by phone from Sebba town, where she now lives.
She and her family are among the lucky ones who survived the June attack, in which about 160 people were killed – the deadliest such assault since the once-peaceful West African nation was overrun by fighters linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State about five years ago. As that violence increases, so too does the recruitment of child soldiers.
The number of children recruited by armed groups in Burkina Faso rose at least five-fold so far this year, up from four documented cases in all of last year, according to information seen by the AP in an unpublished report by international aid and conflict experts.
At least 14 boys are being held in the capital, Ouagadougou, for alleged association with militant armed groups, some there since 2018, said Idrissa Sako, assistant to Burkina Faso’s public prosecutor at the high court in the city.
Amadou said she saw about seven children with the fighters who surrounded her home during the Solhan attack. She did not see them kill anyone, but they helped burn down houses.
“We are alarmed by the presence of children with armed groups,” said Sandra Lattouf, the representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, in the country.
The effects of the conflict on children – including their recruitment as soldiers but also attacks on schools and kids themselves – have become so concerning that this year Burkina Faso was added for the first time to the UN’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict.
Aid groups say they are seeing more children with jihadi fighters at roadside checkpoints in the Sahel – an arid region that passes through Burkina Faso but stretches straight across the African continent just south of the Sahara. In recent years, the western Sahel has become an epicentre of jihadi violence.