By now you may have already seen the viral photo circulating on social media. It shows a tumultuous scenario featuring a shirtless teenager surrounded by security forces, and they appear to be in a scuffle.
Authorities spotted the teenager when he stripped of his shirt in the middle of the road, revealing a two-kilogram bomb he had intended to detonate there in the northern city of Kirkuk in Iraq.
Thankfully, security forced managed to stop him before anything devastating could happen.
The photo may have gone viral, but such incidents have been happening all over the world, incidents that aren’t particularly novel.
Iraqi security forces remove a suicide vest from a boy in Kirkuk. Photo credit: REUTERS
But the common denominator between these incidents is that those who have set off to carry out these tasks are mostly children.
From the Taliban to Boko Haram, researchers say that such tactics have been increasingly employed, and for many different reasons: “to build ranks depleted by losses, preserve adult fighters or simply catch security forces off guard,” as per the Times of India.
The Islamic State, in particular, have been taking in children from towns it’s captured and then indoctrinates them in its schools and camps.
Not only that, these children figure heavily in the religious extremists’ “Cubs of the Caliphate” brigades, publishing their images and videos on social media receiving training, indoctrination, and carrying out bombings or executions.
UNICEF regional spokesperson Juliette Touma said: “Child recruitment across the region is increasing.
“Children are taking a much more active role…, receiving training on the use of heavy weapons, manning checkpoints on the front lines, being used as snipers and in extreme cases being used as suicide bombers.”
In fact, in a study between January 2015 and 2016 examining Islamic State propaganda on child and youth “martyrs,” researchers found three times as many suicide operations involving children over the year.
“They represent an effective form of psychological warfare — to project strength, pierce defenses, and strike fear into enemy soldiers’ hearts,” the study said. “Islamic State is mobilizing children and youth at an alarming rate.”
In an April report, this time examining attacks involving child suicide bombers between 2014 and this year, it rose four times in northeastern Nigeria where Boko Haram is based, as well as neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Scarier still is that nearly two thirds of all the child attackers that UNICEF tracked were girls, and that in West Africa alone, 38 child suicide bombers have already been recorded this year.
“This is one of the defining features of this conflict,” said Thierry Delvigne-Jean of the agency’s west and central Africa office.
Sadly, for children in places where militants have taken over and exercised complete control, they are no longer living their childhoods.
Instead, their young and impressionable minds are being used for nefarious purposes.
READ: The photo that crushed our soul, and what you can do about it
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