Children in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso at greater risk of being recruited by armed groups – Mali

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DAKAR, October 20 – Children living in conflict zones of the central Sahel region of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger face an increased risk of illegal recruitment by non-state armed groups[i] in an effort to attract young people after thousands of schools have closed over the past two years due to increased violence and COVID-19.

A new report commissioned by Save the Children and published by the Migration Studies and Research Group[ii] found that a growing number of factors in the central Sahel region were pushing children into conflict at an alarming rate, including a new deliberate and calculated recruitment strategy by non-state armed groups, including extremist groups, in the three countries.

Interviews in 23 locations with young people formerly involved in armed groups, local authorities and other decision-makers revealed that some children were forcibly recruited into conflict, others driven by poverty, while some felt the need to perform a religious duty, or for safety and protection. But some have been drawn to promises of wages, phones or motorcycles by non-state armed groups.

It remains difficult to determine exactly how many children are associated with armed groups, but researchers found that the children recruited had either dropped out of school or had no access to a school system. Some children as young as seven have been illegally recruited to gather intelligence on local communities for non-state armed groups.

Save the Children, which has been in the Sahel since the early 1980s, warned that the creation of more desperate circumstances for children in the region, compounded by the impact of COVID-19, exposed boys and girls to a increased risk of being recruited into a conflict which constitutes a serious violation of children’s rights and international humanitarian law.

The organization has also expressed concern at the failure to meet the targets for helping children in the region set at a ministerial fundraising conference.[iii] one year ago. More than 1.4 million people remain displaced in the region, more than half of whom are under the age of 15.

Abdou *, 21, joined an armed group operating in Burkina Faso when he was still a child:

“I spent more than four years in an armed group. I got to know this group by going to listen to their sermons. The fact that I was [not in school or working] pushed me and other young people to find a job and the only one available [option] was to join a [an armed] group. When recruiting, what was important was to have motivated people, people ready to follow them …* the candidates sought are children between the ages of 15 and 25. “*

In Niger, 22-year-old Mouhamadou * joined an armed group for three years after hearing about it from friends.

“Two things encouraged me to join the armed group. The first was for jihad for religion and the second, they said [they would] pay me. I was promised that one day I would become a civil servant.

“Penalties have been imposed on children for mistakes. They are punished for treason or if they commit any fault. The penalties are different depending on the nature of the slip. If you haven’t slipped a lot, we deny you food, we lock you in a place where you don’t know where you are. They can even be killed.

“I realized this was not the life I wanted to lead. It’s true that we make money in the group, but we don’t know what to do with it.

In a new Policy Note released today, Save the Children calls on governments in the central Sahel region and the international community to commit to funding education in emergencies and protecting children from recruitment. The call precedes the Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration in Nigeria next week.

Eric Hazard, Pan-African Policy Director for Save the Children, said:

“Violence, poverty and insecurity threaten the safety of millions of children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Children in the region face a serious protection crisis and they need access to education. Of the $ 200 million needed to respond to the education crisis in the Sahel, only 11% have been mobilized to date[iv], while more than 4,000 schools are currently closed in the region due to insecurity, putting more than 800,000 girls and boys at increased risk of recruitment[v].

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, eight million children were out of school due to violence and insecurity. The longer they stay out of school, the greater the risk of forced enrollment. For a child in conflict, school provides access to a safe space to learn, protection from risks such as recruitment into armed groups, and provides a crucial sense of routine and calm.

* Names in this press release have been changed to protect the identity of respondents

Note to editors;

The study report on which this article is based consisted of interviewing 168 people in 23 sites in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger between May 4 and June 28, 2021. The target groups are divided into three:

  • Young people formerly involved in armed groups; young people who are or have been close to young people who belonged to the groups; people who, by virtue of their socio-professional position, are well informed about armed groups; and those with additional data and those who have attended schools closed as a result of attacks by armed groups,

  • Local authorities, guides or religious leaders (imams, Koranic teachers), resource persons (civil servants or former civil servants and especially teachers), traditional chiefs, community leaders, as well as actors who are members of NGOs, agents of the decentralized State, services to internally displaced persons and refugees, and members of crisis committees.

  • Decision-making actors at the top of the State.

[i] 13.49 million in Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger, based on Save the Children calculation

[ii] According to a new report entitled ‘* Analysis of the central Sahel on the level of risk for children recruited by armed groups’ * funded by Save the Children and published by Aly Tandian, professor of sociology at the Gaston-Berger University of Saint- Louis (Senegal), director of the Senegalese Migration Observatory and some GERM & Company Facts laboratory. http://www.germ.sn/2021/10/17/analyse-du-sahel-central-sur-le-niveau-de-risque-pour-les-enfants-recrutes-par-des-groupes-armes/

[iii] https://www.savethechildren.net/news/central-sahel-conference-fails-acknowledge-needs-children-caught-conflict-disaster-and-covid-19

[iv] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/wca_funding_2021_hrp_-_2021_10_11.pdf

[v] Based on information collected by Education Clusters in countries, 2,244 schools were closed in Burkina Faso in July 1664 in Mali in August 2021 and 409 in Niger. The total of 4,317 schools in the 3 countries affected 838,603 children.

For more information, please contact:

Belinda Goldsmith [email protected]

We have francophone and anglophone spokespersons.

Our after-hours media contact (BST) is [email protected] / +44 (0) 7831 650409


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