Trafficking The Innocent: Building Boko Haram's Arsenal

The Growth of Human Trafficking

The number of suicide bombings perpetrated by the children of Boko Haram dramatically increased from 2014 to 2015, with one in five attacks executed by innocent youth. Last year alone, 44 children were used as suicide bombers by Boko Haram. In addition, more and more young women are being kidnapped and forced to become sex slaves and suicide bombers, contributing to the increase in deaths within war-torn Nigeria. How did these children and women end up here? How did this become the new strategy for the terrorist organization?

Human trafficking is an extremely profitable industry that not only generates financial revenue, but also provides fighting power, helps terrorists vanquish the enemy, and destroys communities. As currently evidenced in Nigeria and its neighboring countries, trafficking threatens populations and diminishes resistance to growing terrorist movements. Additionally, human trafficking has proven more profitable than the trafficking of drugs and weapons, thus becoming the trade of choice for terrorists.

According to the United Nations definition, human trafficking is the acquisition of people through means of force, fraud, or deception, with the intention of exploitation. Some of the root causes of this developing industry include poverty, conflict, a weak legal system, and migration—whether voluntary or forced—all of which are prevalent within the West African region. However, although not a new practice among terrorist groups, human trafficking has become a more prominent component of these organizations in recent years because of the financial gain it provides and its potential for an increased human arsenal, consequently expanding the human trade throughout West and North Africa.

Boko Haram’s Developing Arsenal

Since Boko Haram’s founding, thousands of people have been abducted. In December 2014 alone, Boko Haram was reported to have kidnapped over 200 villagers and killed dozens more in a raid in northeastern Nigeria. Despite not having concrete evidence that these individuals were in fact trafficked, the recent bombing strategy of Boko Haram utilizing young girls as suicide bombers gives credence to the possibility that human trafficking is being committed. Undeniably, human trafficking plays a substantial role in the operations of modern-day terrorist groups. Why is this important?

Boko Haram taking on a more prominent role in human trafficking within West Africa is a particularly troubling move, as this new strategy is successfully amplifying existing fears of the terrorist group. Unlike regular bombings and shootings, tactics long used by the group, human trafficking poses a new kind of threat: everyone is a target for slavery and anyone can be morphed into a tool for Boko Haram to use in its efforts.

As a result, countless women have been kidnapped and forced into sexual and domestic slavery, and increasingly used as suicide bombers. Additionally, many men and children have been catapulted into harsh labor conditions, such as mining and agricultural work, or made to be soldiers and participate in suicide bombings. Boko Haram continues to force and manipulate local populations into doing what they want. These people are just like any other: members of a community with hopes and dreams. So, what can be done to help end this growing trend within Boko Haram’s operational structure?

Destroying Boko Haram and the Human Trade

Education and government action are critical factors in eradicating human trafficking. The core causes of this developing industry (poverty, conflict, a weak legal system, and voluntary or forced migration, as aforementioned) can be addressed on many levels. First, although human trafficking is a largely unknown and extremely well-hidden criminal industry operating worldwide, educating individuals living in poverty and/or planning to migrate about these “too good to be true” scenarios can help decrease instances of forced labor and sexual and domestic slavery. For instance, should an impoverished, uneducated individual be approached about a mining job paying a large sum, it is likely that this person will accept and end up in a harsh labor trafficking situation from which they are unable to escape. However, if this same individual is educated about such scenarios, the likelihood of this person being deceived into a labor trafficking situation is greatly reduced.

Additionally, it is important to provide general education to encourage the socio-economic empowerment of people in vulnerable communities. Having an educated population diminishes the level of desperation for work and the probability that an individual will be more susceptible to “too good to be true” offers. Further, such educated and empowered individuals will help strengthen their communities from within and contribute to the decline of radicalization into terrorist groups.

Second, strengthening the country’s legal system through government action can improve the country’s overall stability and also inhibit terrorist movements from spreading. An unstable legal system shows weakness and allows easy access for terrorists to seize control. Further, a weakened system enables conflict to expand with the opposition forcing those remaining in power out of their positions, most often lethally. Establishing a solid legal foundation for the government is crucial in strengthening the country and protecting its people from such atrocities as war and the human trafficking that flourishes in conflict zones.

Lastly, national governments working with bordering nations can create a unified front against the terrorists and their growing human trafficking routes. As Boko Haram expands throughout West Africa, it is important for neighboring governments—such as Cameroon, Chad, and Niger—to work together to decrease terrorist influence and save innocent lives through intelligence gathering, on the ground efforts, and educating local populations. If these nations can manage to contain and lessen human trafficking through joint efforts, Boko Haram will lose its arsenal and the financial profits necessary to purchase more weapons for their cause.

Human trafficking has become an increasing concern in the expansion of Boko Haram and the death of more innocent people. These individuals are involuntarily being turned into lethal weapons, leading to an expansion of fear rippling throughout northeastern Nigeria, where most attacks have been centered, and beyond. Furthermore, not only are lives at risk but the damage to local communities may be irreparable; with the fall of each community comes the strength of the terrorist group. In order to make any headway in eliminating both the terrorist group and human trafficking, a multi-dimensional approach is needed. Thus, it is vital that educational efforts and government action are implemented across borders in order to stem the progression of Boko Haram.

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