Imagine you are an Islamic soldier: you know how to work and clean a heavy duty gun, you staff checkpoints,you know how to actively fight in the field, and when taking over small towns and villages you know how to check people’s papers.
Now, imagine doing those duties of an Islamic solider at the age of 14. Several hundred underage children are being captured, recruited and trained by groups like MUJAO (the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa led by Ansar Dine) and AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). When these two groups seize small villages, they take underage boys that look like they have potential and boys that practice Wahhabism. Wahhabism is a very conservative form of Islam. The MUJAO and AQIM began using children soldiers in April of 2012 when trying to gain control of northern Mali. Because of the tension growing between Islam and Mali, kids as young as 12 are being sent out to actively fight alongside the grown men. Before sending the children out in the field, the boys stay at training camps in the Gao region, such as Camp Firhoun, jardin of Njawa, and the Customs Building, where they are taught how to use a firearm and learn how to use physical violence. They also intensely study the Koran.
Recently, the two groups attacked the Gao region where mothers saw their sons seizing their own hometown. Corinne Dufka, the senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said,
“These Islamist groups have no business recruiting children into their ranks, much less putting them on the front line. These groups seem to be willfully putting scores of children directly in harm’s way. Before the military campaign goes any further, the Islamist’s should release these children back to their families.”
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is calling the enslavement of these children a war crime. His main goal is to return these children back to their homes safely. An older man from Islam told HWR,
“These are our children- what do they know of war? These so-called Islamist’s are sending our innocents to be slaughtered in the name of Jihad…I ask you, what kind of Islam is this?”