Nigerian Islamists, Vigilantes Using Child Soldiers, Group Says

Islamist militants in Nigeria and pro-government militia groups fighting them are both using child soldiers in the widening conflict in the north, research and advocacy group Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said.

They “recruit children for spying and, at times, participation in hostilities,” New York-based Watchlist said today in an e-mailed report. The army has captured children as young as 12 fighting with the militants, the group said.

The Islamist group, which has carried out gun and bomb attacks across the north of Africa’s most populous country, “has recruited children through abduction, threatening children’s families, and incentivizing boys and young men to join the group by providing them with monetary compensation,” Watchlist research officer Janine Morna said in the report.

Attacks on schools are frequent, and child abductions have become more common since early 2013, she said. In compiling the report, Watchlist interviewed 156 people in Nigeria and in the Diffa region of neighboring Niger, where many Nigerians have fled for safety.

Boko Haram “forcibly converts the Christian women and girls they capture to Islam and often coerces them and other female abductees into marriage,” Morna said.

The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, sparked international outrage when he threatened to sell into slavery more than 200 girls his fighters kidnapped from a school in the northeastern state of Borno in April. While the U.S., the U.K. and other countries have aided the search for the girls, most of them are still missing.

Sinful Education

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin,” took up arms against the Nigerian state in 2009 and has intensified its campaign in recent months. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, holds general elections in February.

The group killed more than 2,000 people in the first half of this year, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in July. On Aug. 24, Shekau declared the northeastern town of Gwoza a “caliphate under Shariah law.”

“Despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, the level of violence and the scale of grave violations against children have worsened,” Morna said.

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