This week, Burkina Faso, the landlocked West African nation that has existed for just 24 years, secured its first medal in its history at the Tokyo Olympic Games, when triple-jumper Hugues Zango secured bronze in the triple jump.
This heartwarming story stands in grim comparison to the situation in Zango’s homeland, where the broader West African trend of jihadi extremism has hit the previously peaceful nation hard.
Burkina Faso also made history under far grimmer circumstances than Zango’s win this year, as it was placed on the United Nation’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict as the number of children being recruited by militant groups in the nation increased five-fold, The Associated Press reported.
In June, the town of Solhan was attacked by militants, who killed over 160 people, the deadliest such attack since Al Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups began to gain prominence in the region.
One witness reported seeing children among the fighters who were urged to attack and helped burn down buildings.
“When I saw the kids, what came to my mind was that (the adults) trained these kids to be assassins, and they came to kill my children,” she told the AP.
“We heard them say, ‘we good children have come to change Solhan in a better way,’” another survivor of the horrific attack, who hid in his shop as the violence raged outside. The man said he heard a woman tell the children, “kill him, kill him.”
The nation’s military is poorly equipped to respond to the armed groups and the Solhan attack broke out after militants caught wind of armed volunteer fighters in the town, which sometimes lend aid to the struggling forces.
Those who are monitoring the rise in child recruitment say that the extremist groups lure them with promises of gifts or money to enroll in school.
Idrissa Sako, who works for Burkina Faso’s public prosecutor in the nation’s capital of Ouagadougou where 14 child soldiers have been held since 2018 for alleged association with armed groups, said some children were promised roughly $18 to kill someone.
The boys remain in government custody because Burkina Faso has not signed an agreement with the U.N. to treat them as victims of the militants, which would enable them to send them to psychological care centers, for example, rather than prison.
“It is a real concern for us to find a permanent solution for children,” Sako explained.
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