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Africa's child soldiers/suicide children: A regulatory framework

Olivier, Michèle


Michèle Olivier


Michele Olivier


Despite the prohibition of child soldiers by international law, recent African conflicts have witnessed a persistence of this phenomenon, which is becoming ever more specialised. An example of such specialist involvement of children in African armed conflicts is the use of young children, especially girls as suicide bombers by the jihadist terrorist groups Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Using children in armed conflict is regarded as amongst the worst forms of child abuse under international law and African regional law. This article examines the almost unprecedented threat to the human rights of children created by child soldiers and specifically child suicide bombers with the objective of identifying major weaknesses in the responses by both general international law and African Union legal instruments. Despite the comprehensive engagement of international regulations with children in armed conflict, they are silent on the practice of using children for the specific purpose of suicide bombings. This article considers the question whether child suicide bombers can be considered to be child soldiers and as such should benefit from the regulations applicable to the latter category. This is established through an analysis of both the general international law and African Union legal frameworks on the rights of the child; child labour; children in armed conflict; and terrorism within the context of available information on the current wave of suicide bombings by young girls in West-Africa. It is suggested that child suicide bombings in a West-African context in effect constitutes a new form of improvised explosive device, but moreover should be regarded as a recognised form of child soldiering and terrorism. Although international law and scholarship do not provide adequate responses to this complex problem, it is suggested that child suicide bombings violate the letter and the spirit of the international regulations identified. This points to a clear need for more focussed scholarly research and comprehensive international engagement in order to understand and more effectively regulate this extreme form of child abuse within the already established context of children in armed conflict.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2018-09
Journal International Journal of Law and Society International Journal of Law and Society
Print ISSN 2640-1894
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 1
Issue 3
Pages 115-124
APA6 Citation Olivier, M. (2018). Africa's child soldiers/suicide children: A regulatory framework. International Journal of Law and Society, 1(3), 115-124. doi:10.11648/j.ijls.20180103.13
Keywords African Union (AU); Child Soldiers; Human Rights; International Law; Suicide Bombers
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© 2018 Authors retain the copyright of this article.
This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License ( which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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