Report: Armed Groups Killing Children, Recruiting Them as Terrorists in Niger

In Niger’s Tillaberi region, where it borders Burkina Faso and Mali, armed groups have been killing young children and recruiting them into terrorism if they keep them alive, according to a report by a human rights organisation, Amnesty International. 

Amnesty International’s Matt Wells said the country is on a cliffhanger as a generation of kids is at the risk of death and a troubled future of guns and rampage in Niger. 

“The Nigerien government and its international partners must urgently take action to monitor and prevent further abuses across Tillaberi region and protect the basic rights of all those affected by this deadly conflict – especially children,” Wells said in a statement. 

These children are not exposed to education like their peers in more stable countries and this has particularly increased since the start of 2021. Across Tillaberi, a swathe of armed groups, with Al-Qaida affiliate, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) the most prominent, have burnt 377 schools, in defiance against a form of education popularly tagged “Western”. 

More than 31,000 pupils have been affected by the closure of the schools with a 14-year old kid telling Amnesty International that there wasn’t anything for them at home, yet their schools were charred.

The situation in Tillaberi was described as a non-international armed conflict by Amnesty International as it called for a swift reaction by the Nigerien government. The terrorist groups have committed war crimes, by killing women and children. 

Many family members have lost their children to terrorist organisations and are calling on the government to protect their people. 

A 55-year man who has 14 children said that the abduction of kids happened in neighbouring communities but his community is beginning to feel the heated impact of JNIM.  He said it’s “getting worse… Before, we’d heard about it—that there had been an abduction or recruitment in another village. But now it’s really reached us.”

Mohamed Bazoum was elected into office in April 2021, becoming Niger’s first democratic President in sixty years. Bazoum came on the back of promises of better and more secure days ahead but that looks like a mere lip service now. 

Niger’s Defence and Security Forces (FDS) hasn’t proven to be a rapid responder to the calls of the people with locals spoken to by Amnesty International revealing it takes two days sometimes for them to come to the scene of an attack. 

“At first, we’d call the FDS [Niger’s armed forces] but now it can be two days and they don’t come,” a 50-year-old man from Torodi, near the Burkina Faso border told the human rights group. “We have been abandoned.”

In August, Bazoum called on the international community to help the Sahel region as it is being terrorised by insecurity. He compared the situation to Afghanistan and the other troubled parts of the world and said Africa also needs such attention.

More than 60 children have been killed in several attacks on villages in Tillaberi, in 2021 alone, according to Amnesty, and sadly, the coming days don’t look any better. 

Amnesty International suggested in the report that the child protection data should be taken seriously, to help better the country’s dipping security. 

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