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Maryam al-Nasiri

Tunisia's armed gangs and their child recruits

Several Tunisian children have been arrested for spying for extremist groups [AFP]

Date of publication: 13 July, 2015

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Feature: Greater efforts need to be made to stop extremist groups in Tunisia recruiting children as spies or to transport goods.

Armed groups in Tunisia are still recruiting children, despite tighter security restrictions and measures to combat extremism imposed in recent weeks by the authorities here.

In 2014, these groups used 290 children to monitor the movements of security and military officials, journalists and politicians, according to the ministry of interior.

The ministry has arrested a number of children for providing extremist groups with information, and transporting supplies to groups in mountainous areas.

In Kasserine province, police arrested a 14-year-old boy for spying on a security centre. The boy admitted he had been recruited by an extremist group to monitor the movements of security officials.

The gang reportedly threatened to kill him if he failed to cooperate - or if he informed officials.

Based on his confession, security services raided houses in the city of Sbeitla in Kasserine province, arresting five members of an extremist group.

     Children are easily recruited by offers of money or the threat of violence.

Anti-terrorism units also disrupted a cell in Sbeitla in February that was recruiting children to spy on police informants.

An official court spokesperson, Sofiane Slaiti, said a number of Tunisian children had been detained for being involved with extremist groups.

Slaiti said one child had been arrested for providing logistical and media support to extremist groups, and targeting security installations.

"Extremist groups recruit children because they can gather information without raising suspicion," Tarek Belhadj Mohamed, a sociology professor, told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Belhadj said children were easily recruited by offers of money or the threat of violence, or arguments they cannot properly assess because of their age.

"This is a crime against children and childhood using religious pretences," said Mohamed. "The children obey their elders out of fear. Extremists can easily use and abuse them, especially when they are being held hostage in extremist training camps."

Salim Zallouz, head of the Tunisian Association for Youth and Childhood, confirmed that armed groups were using children to help them carry out "terrorist" attacks.

Zallouz referred to a social media video of a Tunisian child, aged about seven, who was forced to carry out a beheading in Syria. He called on the government to do more to stop extremist groups recruiting children.

Tunisian psychologist Ahmed Labiedh told al-Araby al-Jadeed extremist groups were recruiting entire families to fight in warzones abroad, and taking advantage of the absence of fathers to recruit children. 

"Efforts need to made to stop children following the same route as their parents," he argued.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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