The use of children as suicide bombers was today debated by MPs in Westminster Hall, with calls for the Government to provide funding for research into the motivations and humanitarian impacts of suicide bombing more generally, and a plea to ensure that unaccompanied minor refugees are given safe haven in the UK.
Roger Mullen, an SNP MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, moved the debate, using research carried out by AOAV and UNICEF to highlight the increasing use of suicide attacks globally. He noted that more than 5,000 civilians were killed and injured in such attacks in the first seven months of 2015. This represents a dramatic 45% increase from the same period in 2014.
In an informed debate, a number of MPs spoke of the harm being caused by these often indiscriminate bombings in countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. The targeting of civilians in urban areas was highlighted, an aspect of harm which is particularly notable after a weekend which saw a huge suicide attack at a peace rally in Turkey, and a quintuple suicide attack in Chad. And while the use of suicide bombing more generally as a tactic was discussed, the debate highlighted the shocking use of children as perpetrators of such attacks. Reports by the Iraq Independent Human Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights Council were highlighted, with figures such as the reported training of 1,000 children as suicide bombers in Iraq since November 2014 being used to demonstrate the increasing use of children as “instruments of conflict.”
Islamic States’ and Boko Harams’ use of children in suicide attacks was noted, in particular the use by Boko Haram of girls as young as the age of seven. As David Hanson MP (Labour) stated, such use is “chilling [and] horrendous” and the UK government must take steps to stop it.
It was recognised by Patrick Grady MP (SNP) that the use of children in armed conflict violates international humanitarian law, and that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court prescribes such action as a war crime. It was therefore suggested that the UK government assist in efforts to prosecute those responsible for the training and use of children as suicide bombers. Crucially, it was emphasised that primarily children should be regarded as not simply perpetrators, but as victims.
Importantly, a number of recommendations were put forward to Tobias Ellwood of the Foreign Commonwealth Office. These include:
- The need for the UK government to provide more funding for research into the drivers and motivations of suicide bombing. Roger Mullen emphasised the need for more primary research, and noted that currently assumptions about suicide bombings are being made which are not necessarily backed up by existing research;
- More needs to be done to stop the stigmatise the use of suicide bombings and other IEDs, particularly the use of social media and other internet platforms in enticing young people to join groups such as ISIS. Crucially, this must involve individual, community, and national efforts, including working with religious communities and leaders;
- The current refugee crisis was noted by most of the speakers, with calls to the UK government to ensure that unaccompanied minors are prioritised in the determination of who will be taken in by the UK as refugees.
This is undoubtedly an issue which deserves debate, and the UK government must engage with international partners and civil society in an attempt to stop the increasing use of suicide attacks, particularly those involving children. It is, however, crucial to remember that any discussions should be framed in broader terms. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas results in tens of thousands of civilian casualties every year. And while improvised explosive devices, including suicide attacks, are responsible for a high percentage of these casualties, other explosive weapons such as mortars, rockets and air strikes cause destruction and devastation in civilian populated areas. In 2014, AOAV recorded that 32,662 civilians were killed and injured by explosive weapons, 90% of which occurred in populated areas. And while IEDs killed and injured over 17,000, air-launched explosive weapons killed and injured over 5,800 civilians, and ground-launched killed and injured over 8,000. Globally, civilians were casualties of explosive weapons in 58 countries and territories in 2014.
Explosive weapons with wide area effects, whether used by state or non-state actors, should not be used in populated areas. They kill and injure thousands of civilians each year, causing untold psychological harm, destroying buildings, infrastructure and access to healthcare. Governments are already engaging in work to tackle the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. More than 40 states have spoken out against this pattern of harm to civilians, with many welcoming the UN Secretary-General’s recommendations to develop a political commitment that will end the use of explosive weapons that have wide area effects in populated areas. So far the UK government has yet to speak in favour of such a proposal and AOAV strongly urges the UK to be at the forefront of this progressive effort to enhance the protection of civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas. In future discussions in the UK Parliament about suicide bombings, it must be remembered that they are only one aspect of the harm caused by explosive weapons in populated areas.
For more information please contact Jane Hunter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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