ABOUT 200 young boys graduated from the Darul-Quran training camp operated by the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) in February, according to a report by the Institute of Security Studies (ISS)
This report titled ‘Children on the battlefield: ISWAP’s latest recruits’ was published on the website of the ISS on Thursday.
The ISS reported that those familiar with the programme disclosed that ISWAP operates 50 such camps in the Lake Chad Basin where children from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger were trained.
“Institute for Security Studies (ISS) research shows that about 200 young boys graduated from Darul Quran in early February.
“In the ISWAP video, instructors noted that the group had similar training camps in different locations. The report states that those familiar with the programme told the ISS about 50 such camps on the Lake Chad islands, where youth from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria were present,” the report stated.
ISS further said that formal education had been one of Boko Haram’s primary targets, with 5,000 classrooms razed in northeast Nigeria since the insurgency commenced in 2009.
The report observed that a video that showed children being fed contrasted with their realities in the training camps.
ISS said the children were subjected to dire conditions characterised by abuses such as whipping or hitting, starvation, exhaustion and lack of sleep.
“Children deemed to be slow learners or not fit to be trained are treated as slaves and assigned non-combat roles. They are deployed to commanders’ homes, where they perform tasks such as fetching firewood and water, doing laundry and delivering messages to other villages,” the report added.
The report also noted that although ill-treatment of civilians, use of youngsters in combat, enslavement of women and girls and starving children to death were among the reasons for Boko Haram’s split, ISWAP has started the same practices.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2021 said West and Central Africa is the region with the highest number of child soldiers and the most underage victims of sexual violence in the world.
UNICEF said since 2016, government forces and armed groups have recruited more than 21,000 children.
The ISS report advised governments and other stakeholders in the Lake Chad region to urgently prevent more children from being recruited through preventive instead of reactionary responses.
It noted that the advice was based on the understanding that the lack of formal education and livelihoods were among the conditions that enable children’s recruitment.
“Community consultations are the anchor for any strategy to address child recruitment. Without this vital step, interventions will be less effective, and former recruits may be stigmatised and rejected,” the report advised.