Maritime sector urged to help counter pirates’ use of children

Somalian pirates surrender to HMS Cumberland's Royal Marines boarding team in the Gulf of Aden


The maritime sector has been urged to raise the awareness of the growing exploitation of children by armed piracy groups.


It comes as the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative published a manual to raise awareness and educate the maritime sector on the issues.


The guide is the result of six years of research by the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative in collaboration with Human Rights at Sea, the Dalhousie University Marine Piracy Project, and the 100 Series Rules. The manual, Children Affected by Maritime Piracy: A Handbook for Maritime Security Sector Actors, looks at the use of children by piracy gangs and highlights the need for shipping companies to support staff who have to deal with piracy incidents involving children.


The gangs see the benefits of the children being that they are more able to scale the sides of vessels and that the crew and armed security guards are less willing to open fire or react physically if they come face-to-face with a child.


While the exact numbers of children involved in piracy across the world are not available, the research used evidence from captured pirates off the coast of Somalia.


Of those captured, a large number who were directly engaged in the piracy operations were under the age of 18.


It estimated that in 2014 up to 20% of all maritime pirates apprehended off the coast of east Africa were under the age of 18.


Shelly Whitman, executive director of The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, told Safety at Sea, “What we find is that there are different dynamics in times of war and peace. If it is peace and these children are in maritime areas then they are used by the piracy gangs and at times of war they are recruited as child soldiers. It is a problem on both the east and west coasts of Africa where these dynamics are occurring and, in the past, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka used children in significant numbers in their ‘sea tigers’.


Whitman explained that the piracy gangs believe the children are less likely to look at the long-term risks of their actions and are therefore more easily coerced to take on these risks.

“The aim of the manual is to highlight the issue and remove the lack of knowledge of those in the maritime industry [who] may come into contact with these children. They can then recognise they are children and take the appropriate steps” Whitman said. “We also hope it may help with the severity of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] suffered by staff, which is often worse when children are involved.


“The manual also includes ways in which you can handle these interactions and suggestions on what can be done to rescue these children. If we can lessen the benefit of their use, then the hope is that they will become less attractive to the piracy gangs.”

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