NBC News quotes Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham on Boko Haram’s pattern of using children as bombers, spies, and executioners:
“There are enough reports to indicate there is a pattern,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, who says kids are smuggling weapons, spying on Nigerian military garrisons, executing local leaders in town squares and mounting armed attacks against civilians.
Many boys enter the service of Boko Haram as “Al Majiri boys,” says Pham. It’s common in Islamic Africa, he says, for poor families to send their young sons to study with imams, who also board the boys. The imams have the boys beg for money and food. Boko Haram recruits the boys, and then asks them to do their begging outside Nigerian military garrisons to conduct surveillance.
According to Pham, forcing the kids to attack their own villages and kill their old neighbors is meant to prevent them from deserting, in a technique he says is familiar from the Liberian civil war 20 years ago.