As you are all aware, the Crime Intelligence and CMI task teams in close coordination with police in Bukedi South and Butaleja, conducted an intelligence led operation where they rescued 59 victims who were allegedly recruited into an ADF domestic cell and being radicalised. A total of 9 suspects, including two females, who were highly linked to the ADF suspects, who attacked Busiika and other police stations were arrested. We want to reiterate that all persons arrested are not targeted for their beliefs, ideology, religion, but are definitely pursued for their acts of conspiracy and hostile engagement that are in total breach of the law, peace and safety of Ugandans.
Like we have always indicated, the attacks and hostilities against Ugandans are from a known enemy, the ADF, whose aim is to promote fear and panic in the public. As a result, we have been monitoring all spaces in homes, places of worship which are acting as domains for recruitment and collection centres, for children who are introduced to ideological messages and beliefs. We are now interviewing and counselling the victims and gathering further information on the alleged disappearance of other children from the camp, to an unknown place. Arrangements are also in place to re-integrate and reunite them, with their parents, guardians and relatives.
We wish to inform the public that terrorists and violent extremist groups, use forced and brutal recruitment of large numbers of children. Children may be kidnapped, abducted, coerced through threats or purchased from traffickers. Children living in poverty, without parental care, and street children are particularly vulnerable to forcible recruitment campaigns. Some times recruitment is done based on ties between the terrorist group and particular communities; especially when the group is perceived as one that is defending the interests and groups of that particular community against threats, they may encourage children to join the group.
In some instances, the groups may offer payment, food, accommodation and protection, encouraging loyalty. In addition, the transnational nature of terrorism and violent extremism, has favoured the emergency of transnational recruitment and the involvement of children in the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters.
Terrorists and violent extremist groups have also developed propaganda strategies aimed at highlighting the advantages of joining the group or at triggering empathy. Joining a group may be portrayed as offering status and prestige, smart uniforms and weapons. The experience is shown as an opportunity for power, especially to children without educational opportunities or employment. They also focus on “victimhood”, using images, that show the “crimes of the enemy”, with a view to triggering anger and eliciting empathy with those injured or killed and creating a desire to carry out revenge. Specific websites also advertise the existence of the groups and, in many instance, multiple sites in different languages include different messages tailored to specific audiences. Social media platforms, including email, chat rooms, e-groups, message boards, video recordings and application are especially popular recruitment tools that can also facilitate tailored approaches.
The public, parents, guardians and the local community, should know that children are recruited by terrorists or violent extremist groups, to carry out a variety of roles within or for the groups. Some children are used in hostilities such as front-line fighting, carrying out executions of hostages or prisoners or carrying out terrorist attacks, including as suicide bombers. Others have support roles as messengers, porters, smugglers or spies, or they are in effect treated as slaves and systematically subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation.
Some prominently exploit children to boost their visibility and propaganda. Images of children engaged in acts of violence or being exposed and normalised to violence, are shocking to the public, and also shows the power and ruthlessness of the group. In other instance, selected families and communities, tend to push their children to join the ranks of terrorists or violent extremist groups to guarantee the possibility of continuing to expand their power base, despite the decreasing support.
In addition, children are more easily intimidated and far easier to control, both physically and mentally, than adults. They are more inclined to quickly show loyalty to authority figures, and are especially susceptible to following beliefs, and behaviours of those they love and respect, an element that is especially relevant when families are involved in the recruitment process. The groups, who strive to ensure their future survival, may see the use of children as an “investment in the future generation”.
Terrorist and violent extremist groups, also take look at the economic considerations and effectiveness of children, when recruiting them. Accordingly, children are less expensive than adults, they require less food to survive, use small arms in warfare and are paid less in support roles or as combatants.
There are also a number of reasons why girls are favoured targets of recruitment. One reason is visibility attacks by girls, especially young girls have a greater propaganda value, as they tend to gainer more media attention than attacks by their male counter parts. Children, particularly girls, are increasingly being used as spies for delivering messages, carrying materials and under taking suicide attacks. The reasons for this are often pragmatic, children have less understanding of the risk they face and therefore, display less anxiety. They are also more likely to do so as are they ordered, and they generally benefit from the advantages of arousing less suspicious, which can be a crucial asset, for instance in getting closer to targets.
Another reason is effectiveness, as the girls do not conform to traditional security profiles and they tend to raise less suspicion and thus have an increased likelihood of successfully carrying out attacks or support roles. Girls may also be induced to “fall in love” with a number of a group through social media, or they may seek an escape from structural violence or family pressure at home by getting married to a terrorist fighter. In addition, sexually abused girls may feel they have no choice and that they have been dishonoured and their reputation has been ruined hindering them from going back home.
We are meanwhile, identifying parents to the victims for their statements and caution them against handing over their children to such anti-democracy actors, who are bent on using their children as actors of violence and impunity, for their selfish gains.
SCP Enanga Fred
7th February 2023