PARENTS/GUARDIANS I ALERT YOU: TERRORISTS ARE ON THE PROWL TO RADICALIZE YOUR CHILDREN

I am really sober on my knees this LORD’s day as I address a disturbing trend in the protection of the African child today.

I am concerned about radicalization of children by terror groups like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al Qaeda, Al-Qa’ida inthe Arabian Peninsula(AQAP), Hamas, the Taliban, Hezbollah etc.   It has become a worrisome global phenomenon for children to be recruited, radicalized and deployed as suicide bombers, soldiers, human shield, spies, messengers, lookouts etc.

These children are either exported from their countries to the training sites of the recruiting terrorist groups. In some instances they are asked to return to their countries after they have been indoctrinated to carry out acts of terrorism or they are posted to other locations countries. Where the terrorist group reside in the same countries where the children resides, they are recruited, radicalized and deployed to carry out terror acts in their countries like we have found in the case of Boko Haram. In some cases, terrorist groups, who are not located in the countries, where the children reside, carry out the entire recruitment and radicalization virtually. In this case, the recruited and radicalized children do not get to leave their countries. In most cases they are trained to carry out ‘retail terrorism.’ This is a concept created by the terrorist groups to recruit and radicalize western children and youths to carry out terrorism activities within their own soils. This solves for the terrorist groups, the problems associated with tightened immigration and security measures taken by the governments of western states to deal with the escalated cases of terrorism in their countries. A very recent example of ‘retail terrorism’ was the case of the Cherif and Said Kouachi brothers, who were behind the recent Charlie Hebdo terror attack in France.

Studies reveal that children, as young as five years old are recruited and radicalized. They recruit children of both male and female genders, low and highly, from developed and developing countries. Their recruitment of children also cuts across religious beliefs, Islam and Christianity.

In Nigeria today, Boko Haram is in the habit of recruiting and deploying children as suicide bombers and soldiers.  Anthony Lake, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has described Boko Haram use of children as suicide bombers and all of the categories identified above as ‘depraved act.’ Boko Haram uses children as young as eight years old to carry out suicide attacks.

What is the social status of the children being recruited by terrorists groups all over the world? The first are the children of the poor and uneducated, the second are orphan and abandoned children, the third are the children of the terrorists, the fourth are the children of rich and informed. Still fresh in our memory is the story of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was born with silver spoon in his mouth but was recruited and radicalized by AQAP.

The strategy for the recruitment of the children of the poor and the rich and educated are completely different. In most cases the children of the poor and uneducated are either captured without the consent of their parents or the children are released by the parents, after being deceived by the terrors groups of a better life.

The strategy for recruiting the children of the rich and the informed is to reach the children directly without the knowledge and the consent of their parents/guardian. The recruitment is largely done through the use of the internet, particularly, social media. They create children-friendly websites with cartoons, which are updated almost daily; they pose as children on the social media platforms to get the attention of children; they post short and attractive messages, which appeal to the naivety and emptiness of the children. It has been established that ISIS, for example has over 46,000 feeder twitter accounts, created to tweet their activities and retweet their messages until they begin to trend and be on the face of every user of the social media platforms.

It is important to note that the terrorist groups, earlier identified recruit children from all the territories of the world, both from developed and developing countries of the world. Still in the news is the story of thethree British teenage girls, who are said to have left their parents in February  to travel to Syria to joins ISIS. It has been reported that the three teenage have finally crossed to Syria and that many other British teenagers are on the waiting list to also join ISIS. On Wednesday Australian Jake Bilardi 18, identified by his ISIS name Abdullah al-Australi, was reported to have blown up himself in a suicide mission in Ramadi in Iraq. He was recruited when he was a child. According to the Australian authority, just last week two teenage Australians were arrested at Sidney airport, suspected to be travelling to join ISIS. CNN reports that according to CIA sources, there are over 2,000 westerners from different countries, who have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. On February 21, 2015, CNN aired the story of Islam Yaken, who went from a private school in Cairo but left to join ISIS.

The Will, on March 4, 2015, a United States online medium, published the shocking report that one of the sons of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais had joined ISIS after moving from Nigeria with his two wives and children in order to help fight alongside ISIS. Though the son is said to be 41-year, the fact is that ISIS is already recruiting from Nigeria. If they could recruit a man with two wives and children, it goes without saying that children will be nothing but easy preys. You will also recall that recently CNN reported that Boko Haram is offering ISIS gateway to West Africa and the possibility of Al-Shabaab joining the unholy alliance. If this report is anything to go about, it therefore means that Boko Haram, who has already perfected the art of recruiting children, may become a feeder, formidable and effective recruitment body, poised to export Nigerian children, across all social divides to Iraq and Syria.

Permit me to quickly unfold the profile of the children and the social factors, which make it are easy for terrorist groups to recruit:

Emptiness: when a teenager is empty, he/she lacks identity, value and character contents. He/she has not been trained and disciplined to discover his/her identity, the values to represent and the character to imbibe. sustain and defend. He/she is not trained to discover and defend his/her self-worth. Such child/teenager becomes an adventure seeker in a bid to fill the emptiness within. When such child/teenager goes to the internet or social media platform, he/she is like a city without walls, which accommodates all, the good, the bad and the ugly.  When a child/teenager, who is empty, now becomes thirsty or hungry, every bitter thing becomes sweet and every rubbish becomes filling. Such teenager are easy preys to all destructive forces like drug addiction, promiscuity, terrorism and others.
Anger: when a child/teenager suffers abuse, he/she is dehumanized. He/she loses capacity for compassion and seeks carry out a revenge mission on the abuser, the society and the world, which watched unconcerned when he/she was being abused.
Untrained senses: it is the responsibility of parents and guardians to ensure that the senses of their children are trained to be able to decipher between good and evil. Where this is not done, the child/teenager lacks sound sense of judgment and standards of behavior. He/she is simply gullible, believing that all that glitter is always gold and that life is a bed of roses.  Such child/teenager does not have any screening capacity or standard of judgment. They become easy prey of peer pressure and drown by it.
Abandonment: many parents and guardians are too far from their children. We do not have any rich relationship with them. Therefore there is no communication. Where there is not communication, it means we are not our children’s confidants. Love to children means appreciation and attention. Once they are denied of both, they feel abandoned. When children are abandoned, it means, we are not available and when we are not available as primary and secondary caregivers, we lose the edge of vigilance and sensitivity to find out things for ourselves by observing our children. When they are faced with a situation where they are being wooed to do the wrong thing,, they do not find us AVAILABLE, FRIENDLY, VIGILANT, SENSITIVE and UNDERSTANDING enough to talk to. Our absence diminishes our influence and renders us ineffective in the days when our children need us most.
Lack of control/supervision: many primary and secondary caregivers do not have family and institutional policies to regulate their children’s behavior and habits. I believe that every family or institution of learning today must have a clear policy on children and internet use, particularly as it relates to the use social media. There are principles of control that must be in place to ensure that our children partake of the huge benefits of the internet technology without getting lost in the process. Our principle of control must address addiction and purposeless use of the internet and social media. We must identify and address positive and negative use of the social media and how to cultivate and reject same respectively. The truth of the matter is that many children go to the internet without control and defined purpose and plan. The saying is ever true that when you do not know where you are doing, every bus stop looks attractive. 
Silence: our society does not discuss. We do not think ahead. We fail to arrest situations by discussing them. We think that leaving matters unaddressed kill them. Unknown to us, when social issues are not brought to the domain of public debate they fester underground and take control of the lives of men and women they target.

My suggestions: I think to counter the deadly but very weak wiles of terrorists and their recruitment of children, I suggest as follows:

Start a Conversation: as primary caregivers (parents/guardians) and secondary caregiver (schools, religious places of worship, media etc.), I suggest that you begin an informed conservation with the children under your care on this dangerous trend. KINDLY NOTE THAT FOR INSTITUTION OF LEANINGS AND RELIGIOUS BODIES, WHO ARE INTERESTED IN STARTING THE CONVERSATION, I AM AVAILABLE TO HELP IN FACILITATING SUCH CONVERSATION, AS LONG AS I HAVE AMPLE NOTICE. Parents and teachers must also be involved in the conversation. The goal of the conversation will empower our children and their caregivers in responding to this dangerous trend.
Establish the principle of Child-Friendly control: as primary and secondary caregivers, we must establish child-friendly control that do not cut off our children from the use of the internet and social media and yet preserve their sanity.
Train: this is long-term and on-going measure. I believe we must make a commitment to train our children to develop and sustain soft and life skills, which will enable them to respond adequately to the challenges and pressures of life.

I think, I should sign out here…This is again a long piece…Yet, it is not my will…I profusely apologize for keeping you this long…Please, if you believe it is worth the trouble of reading, please encourage me with your comments and responses. Do have an INSPIRED week.

This Taiwo Akinlami Sober on his knees on the LORD’s Day.

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