Despite the prohibition of child soldiers by international law, recent African conflicts have witnessed a persistence of this phenomenon, which is becoming ever more specialised. An example of such specialist involvement of children in African armed conflicts is the use of young children, especially girls as suicide bombers by the jihadist terrorist groups Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Using children in armed conflict is regarded as amongst the worst forms of child abuse under international law and African regional law. This article examines the almost unprecedented threat to the human rights of children created by child soldiers and specifically child suicide bombers with the objective of identifying major weaknesses in the responses by both general international law and African Union legal instruments. Despite the comprehensive engagement of international regulations with children in armed conflict, they are silent on the practice of using children for the specific purpose of suicide bombings. This article considers the question whether child suicide bombers can be considered to be child soldiers and as such should benefit from the regulations applicable to the latter category. This is established through an analysis of both the general international law and African Union legal frameworks on the rights of the child; child labour; children in armed conflict; and terrorism within the context of available information on the current wave of suicide bombings by young girls in West-Africa. It is suggested that child suicide bombings in a West-African context in effect constitutes a new form of improvised explosive device, but moreover should be regarded as a recognised form of child soldiering and terrorism. Although international law and scholarship do not provide adequate responses to this complex problem, it is suggested that child suicide bombings violate the letter and the spirit of the international regulations identified. This points to a clear need for more focussed scholarly research and comprehensive international engagement in order to understand and more effectively regulate this extreme form of child abuse within the already established context of children in armed conflict.
Africa’s Child Soldiers/Suicide Children: A Regulatory Framework, International Journal of Law and Society.
Vol. 1, No. 3,
2018, pp. 115-124.
An IED is a type of unconventional explosive weapon that can take any form and be activated in a variety of ways according to NATO ‘Improvised Explosive Devices’ http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_72809.htm (Accessed 10/05/2018).
Hunter, J. (10 August 2015) https://aoav.org.uk/2015/2015-an-epidemic-of-suicide-bombs/ (Accessed 10/05/2018).
Bloom, M. (2007) Female Suicide Bombers. Daedelius 2007, 136(1), p. 94-102.
Recent studies that exist include those by Robert. A. Pape, Director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. See Pape, R. A. & Feldman, J. K. (2010) Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It, Chicago; Pape, R. A. (2005) Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Bombing, New York 2005; S. Atrane, The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism. The Washington Quarterly, 29 issue 2, 2006, p. 127-147; Atrane, S. (2003) Genesis of Suicide Terrorism. Science 299, issue 5612, March 2003, p. 1534-1539; Atrane, S. (2004) Mishandling Suicide Terrorism. The Washington Quarterly 27 issue 3, 2004, p. 65-90; Ashworth S. et al (2008) Design, Inference and the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. American Political Science Review, 102 issue 02 May 2008, p. 269-273; Pedahzur, A. (2005) Suicide terrorism, Cambridge 2005; and Crenshaw, M. (2007) Explaining Suicide Terrorism: A Review Essay. Security Studies, 2007, 16 issue 1, p. 133-162.
De Silva, H., Hobbs C.& Hanks H., (2001) Conscription of Children in Armed Conflict – A Form of Child Abuse. A Study of 19 Former Child Soldiers. Child Abuse Review, 2001, p. 125–134.
Report of the Secretary General ‘Children and armed conflict’ A/59/695 – S/2005/72.
Factsheet: Child soldiers, http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/childsoldiers.pdf, (Accessed 10/05/2018).
This distinction was implied by the Regulations of the Hague Convention IV of 1907, and is according to Boczek, an established principle of international humanitarian law. See Boczek, B. A. (2005) International Law A Dictionary, Oxford 2005, p. 422.
Elbadawi, I. & Sambanis, N. Why are there so many civil wars in Africa? Understanding and preventing violent conflict, Journal of African Economics 9, issue 3, p. 244-245; Bugnacki, and J. Critical Issues Facing Africa: Terrorism, War, and Political Violence, 17 January, http://www.americansecurityproject.org/critical-issues-facing-africa-terrorism-war-and-political-violence/Bugnacki 2015, http://www.americansecurityproject.org/critical-issues-facing-africa-terrorism-war-and-political-violence/ (Accessed 17/01/ 2018).
There is no reliable quantitate data on the number of child soldiers in Africa partially due to the absence of a concise and agreed definition. The figure of 120 000 has been used continuously since the 1990s. See Waschefort, G. (2015) International Law and Child Soldiers, Oxford, p. 26.
Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly. Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989.
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 6(1), 9(1), 12, 13, 14, 2, 37, 9(1), 19, 34, 32, 11, 35 and 3.
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 3(1) and 20.
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 38.
Cohn, I. & Goodwin-Gill, G. (1994) Child Soldiers: The Role of Children in Armed Conflict, p. 62.
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Articles 18, 19, 20, 31, 14, 11(3), 21 and 22.
Article 1(2) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child: ‘Nothing in this Charter shall affect any provisions that are more conductive to the realization of the rights and welfare of the child contained in the law of a State Party or in any other international Convention or agreement in force in that State.’
https://treaties.un.org/Pages/Content.aspx?path=DB/titles/page1_en.xml. (Accessed 20/01/2018).
http://www.achpr.org/instruments/child/ratification/. Somalia have signed the ACRWC on 01/016/1991 but not yet ratified. (Accessed 20/07/2017).
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Article 1(1).
Happold, M. (2001) Child soldiers in international law: The regulation of children’s participation in hostilities, Netherlands International Law Review, 47 Issue 1: 28, 2000, p. 28.
Olivier, M. (1999) Children in armed conflict: Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, South African Yearbook of International Law, 24: 248 1999, p. 248-9.
Adoption Geneva, 87th ILC session, 17 June 1999.
UNGA resolution 54/263.
Optional Protocol to the CRC on Children in Armed Conflict Articles 1, 2 and 3(1).
Optional Protocol to the CRC on Children in Armed Conflict, Article 4(1).
Optional Protocol to the CRC on Children in Armed Conflict, Article 3(3)(b).
Optional Protocol to the CRC on Children in Armed Conflict, Article 4(2).
https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-11-b&chapter=4&lang=en. (Accessed 20/01/2018).
Drumbl, M. (2012) Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy, Oxford, pp. 34-35, 177; Dallaire, R. (2011) They Fight like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, London 2011, pp. 123-123; Wessells M. (2009) Child Soldiers, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 39.
Hunter, I. Muslim boys are being kidnapped and brainwashed as suicide bombers before being traded by jihadis at ₤ 30,000 a time, MailOnline, 2016,. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3382674/Muslim-boys-kidnapped-brainwashed-suicide-bombers-traded-jihadis-30-000-time.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490 (Accessed 4/01/2018); J. Hinton, Evil jihadis kidnap thousands of boys to sell as suicide bombers at £30k a time. Thousands of Muslim boys are being kidnapped to be traded as suicide bombers.” 3 January 2016, http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/484934/jihadis-kidnap-child-terrorists-Pakistan, (Accessed 15/01/2017).
Entry into force 18 January 2002, Article 3.
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa Articles 1(k) and 4(2)(g), http://www.achpr.org/instruments/women-protocol/.
Wessells, M. note 30, p. 90.
Sarich, J., Olivier M.& Bales K. (2016) Forced Marriage, Slavery, and Plural Legal Systems: An African Example. Human Rights Quarterly 38 2016, p. 450-476.
Wison, A. Patriarchy: Feminist theory, in Kramarae C. &. Spender D (eds.) (2000) International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge, New York, p. 1495-1496.
Chicago Project on security and Threats, http://cpostdata.uchicago.edu/search_new.php (Accessed 10/05/2018).
Press release ‘Nigeria Regional Conflict: Ten-fold increase in number of children used in ‘suicide’ attacks’, UNICEF, http://www.unicef.org.uk/Media-centre/Press-releases/Nigeria-Regional-Conflict-Ten-fold-increase-in-number-of-children-used-in-suicide-attacks/ (Accessed 21/07/ 2017).
Abass, A. (2010) African peace and security architecture and the protection of human security, in Abass, A. (ed), Protecting Human Security in Africa, Oxford, p. 1-2, p. 77,89.
Security Council resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security adopted on 31 October 2000.
Other women writing on female suicide bombers include Skaine, R. (2006) Female suicide bombers, United States; Brunner, C. (2005) Female suicide bombers–Male suicide bombing? Looking for Gender in reporting the suicide bombings of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Global Society 19.1 2005, p. 29-48; July Rajan, V. G. (2011) Women suicide bombers: Narratives of violence, Oxford; Zenn, J. &. Pearson, E. (2014) Women, Gender and the evolving tactics of Boko Haram. Journal of terrorism research 5.1.
Von Knop, K. (2007) The female jihad: Al Qaeda's women. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30.5 2007, p. 397-414; Jacques K.& Taylor, P. (2008) Male and female suicide bombers: different sexes, different reasons?. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 31.4 (2008), p. 304-326.
Interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation, ‘Fear spreads as child suicide bombings surge in West Africa”, Reuters, 12 April 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3535466.
Honwana, A. (2007) Child Soldiers in Africa, Pennsylvania, pp.73-78; Wessells, M. Child Soldiers, pp. 85-88; and Mazurana, D. & McKay, S. (2001) Child soldiers What about the Girls?, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, September/October:31-35. 2001, p.31-35.
Zenn J., & Pearson, E. (2014) Women, Gender and the Evolving Tactics of Boko Haram. Journal of Terrorism Research, 5.1.
Children in Armed Conflict Report to the UN Security Council of 15 May 2014, A/68/878-S/2014/339, p.38, See also Number of Suicide Bombings Around World Surged 94% in 2014 Amid Rise of ISIS, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.635193 (Accessed 11/05/ 2018).
Onuoha, F. (2014) Boko Haram and the evolving Salafi Jihadist threat in Nigeria, in Pérouse de Montclos, M. (ed) Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria, African Studies Centre, Leiden, p.163-173.
Hoechner, H. (2014) Traditional Quranic students (almajirai) in Nigeria: Fair game for unfair accusations? in Pérouse de Montclos M. (ed), Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria, African Studies Centre, Leiden, p. 63-84.
Chothia, F. Boko Haram crisis: Nigeria's female bombers strike, BBC Africa, 6 August 2015, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-28657085 (Accessed 11/05/ 2018).
Nigerian city of Maiduguri 'attacked by five child bombers, BBC News, 2 October 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-34423311 (Accessed 11/05/ 2018).
Maina Maina, Boko Haram: 26 killed, 85 injured as 14 suicide bombers attack Maiduguri, Daily Post, 29 December 2015, http://dailypost.ng/2015/12/29/boko-haram-26-killed-85-injured-as-14-suicide-bombers-attack-maiduguri/ (Accessed 3/01/ 2016).
A picture of a suspected suicide killers appears in Nigerian Army nabs female suicide bomber in Adamawa, Live Ofofo, http://liveofofo.com/general-news/nigerian-army-nabs-female-suicide-bomber-adamawa-photo.html/ (Accessed 4/01/ 2017).
Female suicide bomber strikes Cameroon night spot, 26 July 2015 09:14, GMT, Aljazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/07/suicide-bomber-strikes-cameroon-night-spot-150726024720051.html (Accessed 11/11/2017).
Kharitonova, N. (2015) Children used as suicide bombers in Central Asia, https://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/children-used-suicide-bombers-central-asia, (Accessed 11/05/2018).
16 Suicide bombers attack Borno and Adamawa as Boko Haram challenges FG December deadline, NaijaGist.com, 29 December 2015 http://naijagists.com/16-female-suicide-bombers-attack-borno-adamawa-in-24-hours-as-boko-haram-challenges-fg-december-deadline/ (Accessed 15/03/2018).
McCane, L. 10-Year-Old Girl Suicide Bomber Kills 9 In Attack, Is Boko Haram To Blame?, 17 July 2015, http://www.inquisitr.com/2260018/10-year-old-girl-suicide-bomber-kills-9-in-attack-is-boko-haram-to-blame/, (Accessed 11/05/2018).
According to a BBC interview with Martin Ewi, a researcher with South Africa's Institute for Security Studies (ISS), as quoted by Farouk Chothia, ‘Boko Haram crisis: Nigeria's female bombers strike’, BBC Africa, 6 August 2015, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-28657085 (Accessed 17/11/ 2015).
Opejobi, 30 December 2015, http://dailypost.ng/2015/12/30/most-female-suicide-bombers-dont-know-they-are-carrying-explosives-lai-mohammed/ (Accessed 3/01/2017).
Boko Haram: How to save female suicide bombers, Vanguard, 29 December 2015, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/12/boko-haram-how-to-save-female-suicide-bombers/ (Accessed 15 /03/ 2016).
Drumbl, M. (2012) Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy, Oxford, p. 102-116.
AHG/Del.2 9XXX. See The African Union Counter Terrorism Framework, 23 Nov 2015 http://www.peaceau.org/en/page/64-counter-terrorism-ct
OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism 1999 https://treaties.un.org/doc/db/Terrorism/OAU-english.pdf.
OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, article 2.
Protocol to the AU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism,
Wessells, M. (2009) Child Soldiers, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 105.
Optional Protocol to the CRC on Children in Armed Conflict was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 May 2000.
Evans, M. D. (ed), (2006) International Law, Oxford, pp.121-128 and 132-133.
Optional Protocol Art 4(1).
Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, 2007.