WASHINGTON – As terrorism proliferates around the world, children are increasingly victimized, not only as targets but also as pawns, like the Nigerian girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram.
“Children are vulnerable. In many cases, they’re easy to get a hold of and they can’t put up much of a fight against a terror organization like Boko Haram,” says WTOP’s National Security Correspondent J.J. Green.
Organizations like Boko Haram know that they can capture the world’s attention by doing something so unthinkable and unspeakable like kidnapping 276 school girls.
Terror groups believe, as in the case of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which unfolded on national television, that dramatic and brutal attacks bring them recognition and respect in the world of jihadism.
There are many ways children can be victimized: as child soldiers, spies or messengers. And there’s a long history of using civilians, including children, as human shields.
Child soldiers date back thousands of years, with historical references to children used as chariot drivers or flag bearers.
One of the problems in today’s society is the relentless spread of violent images in the media, which terrorist organizations try to use to further their own goals. And children help accomplish those goals.
“Things that are posted on the web — messaging that’s posted on social media by terror organizations — some of them are children,” Green says.
Many of the suicide bombers in Afghanistan have been children. And just a few years ago, American children of Somali families living in the Midwest were leaving the U.S. to head overseas.
And as much as the focus seems to be on children overseas, it is a problem here in the United States as well. A quick Web search turns up page, after page of instances of U.S. teens involved in terror plots during the last decade.
The incredible pace and wide availability of technology makes it easier for sophisticated terror planners to seduce and recruit children – a major obstacle for U.S. anti-terror efforts trying to prevent the spread of extremist groups.
“Smartphones, computers to many kids, games, things like that, that are on these computers are some of the ways in which they get involved,” says Green.
He says terrorists recognize that they can use these tools to recruit children. As the children grow up, they become radicalized.
In many countries people consider children to be taboo when it comes to terror, but not always. And other terror groups could try to copy Boko Haram’s tactics.