Experts identify actions to protect children from violence by terrorist groups in Eastern Africa

November 2018 - Globally, children face an increasing risk of economic and sexual exploitation, abuse, neglect and violence. The trafficking, recruitment, and exploitation of children by terrorist and violent extremist groups is among these risks and addressing it requires international cooperation. East African and international experts therefore gathered in Vienna from 22 to 24 October to discuss measures to protect children from these threats.

In the Horn of Africa and Eastern Africa, recruitment and exploitation of children by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab rose significantly in 2017, the most recent year for which figures are available. "Al-Shabaab used detention, violence and threats to force family members, teachers and elders to hand over their children", states a United Nations report on children and armed conflict released in May 2018.

At the same time, the links between trafficking in persons and the exploitation of children by terrorist groups are becoming more and more evident globally and in the Eastern Africa and Horn of Africa region specifically.  

Recognizing the nexus between trafficking in persons, sexual violence and terrorism is crucial to providing tailored and effective responses to protect children from serious forms of violence.

Moreover, the ability of criminal justice entities to identify and assist children at risk of exploitation, radicalisation and recruitment by organised crime, violent extremist or terrorist groups, especially in the context of children on the move along the migration routes emanating from the Horn of Africa, is crucial.

The meeting in Vienna identified and considered various recommendations aimed at countering these crimes by identifying, arresting and prosecuting those who exploit vulnerable children on the move, while at the same time providing support and protection to these vulnerable children at risk.

The recommendations will be incorporated into UNODC programme activities currently being implemented in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South-Sudan and Uganda, as well as in the Global Programme on Violence Against Children which has a specific initiative to prevent and respond to child recruitment by terrorist and violent extremist groups.

The meeting was organized within the framework of the Better Migration Management (BMM) programme, funded by the European Union and the Federal Republic of Germany. 

It brought together over 30 experts from the criminal justice, child protection, counter terrorism and border control fields from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. They were joined by experts on violent extremism and organized crime from international research institutions and experts from UNODC, other parts of the UN and African regional organizations, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Delegates noted that the meeting provided the chance to meet colleagues from across the region to facilitate better co-operation on these issues and to gain more knowledge about the measures being taken in neighbouring countries to protect and prevent children on the move being recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups. 

A delegate commented that the clear message from the workshop was that children should be seen as victims of recruitment by terrorist and violent extremist groups and that children do not choose to be a part of these groups.  The delegate hoped that this point would be emphasised by all the delegations when they returned to their respective countries.