child soldier, child suicide bombers
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
A Four-year-old Palestinian boy Hussein Jarboo holds an AK-47 assault rifle during an anti-Israel
and anti-U.S. rally in 2002. Headband reads "Friends of Martyrs."

Hope for Child Soldiers

July 31, 2009 07:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
The Pakistani government has recovered nearly 12 young suicide bombers in the Swat Valley. The government’s next challenge will be to rehabilitate them, a common problem in war-weary communities.

Poverty and Propaganda Spur Recruits


According to Reuters, Pakistani security forces rescued the boys, all between the ages of nine and 18, who were "brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers." The boys were either captured, surrendered willingly or were given to authorities by their parents because of their disturbed state.

In training camps, the boys witnessed hours of militant Taliban propaganda videos and were told they would be rewarded in heaven for killing their rivals. “They have been brainwashed in such a way that they even call their parents infidels," Bashir Bilour, a senior minister in the provincial government, told Reuters.

In one video, three young boys—Zainullah, Sadique and Masood explain their wish to be suicide bombers. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a writer for The Independent, describes how each boy would blow himself up and the number of fatalities attributed to each.
Qari Abdullah, a Taliban commander responsible for child recruitment, told Obaid-Chinoy, “The kids want to join us because they like our weapons.

Poverty is also a factor. According to The Independent, in rural Pakistan, the average daily income is 1 pound ($1.65), and families are large. As a result, parents send their children to Islamic schools, simply because they are given free meals and accommodation. The Taliban often recruit from these schools, and pay the children’s families a monthly stipend if they enlist.

As families return to the Swat valley after three months of unrest, a new rehabilitation center is being organized, McClatchy Newspapers reported. The program will be funded by the Pakistani army, and each child’s course will be tailored based on “how far that boy has gone,” Lt. Col. Aktar Abbas told McClatchy. “They (the children) have been through great trauma.”

Video: Teenage suicide bomber

Shakirullah, a 14-year-old convicted terrorist from northwestern Pakistan, now shares a cell with 10 other boys in an Afghan juvenile detention facility. His father enrolled him in a madrassa so that he could learn about Islam; Shakirullah says his father didn’t know the school was run by radical Muslims. 

Background: Taliban’s influence in Swat

In “Pakistan: Children of the Taliban,” PBS correspondent Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy traveled through her homeland to investigate how the Taliban has risen to power in Pakistan, and how children, in particular, have been lured into this war.

Related Topic: Rehabilitation of child soldiers

Jean Sayinzoga, chairman of the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission, discussed the challenges former child soldiers and adults face in trying to reintegrate in their communities in a 2008 IRIN article. “Initially when we started to send ex-combatants back home they were rejected,” Sayinzoga said. Since then, the government has created a “sensitisation campaign” to facilitate reintegration.

In Cote D’Ivoire (formerly Ivory Coast), Father Henry de Penfentenyo, a Roman Catholic priest, managed the Children’s House, a youth center for former child soldiers who fought with the rebel army. “We give back to them the hope of building a future,” de Penfentenyo told IRIN in 2004.

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