Georgina Guedes

Stop calling children “suicide bombers”

2015-02-24 14:49

Georgina Guedes

This is an official call for the media of the world to stop referring to children who detonate bombs and kill themselves as “suicide bombers”.

This week, a seven-year-old girl killed herself and five others in a market in Potiskum in northeastern Nigeria. This market has been the site of other attacks of a similar nature that have also widely been branded as being carried out by suicide bombers.

What suicide means

Let’s unpack this notion. Suicide is defined as “the act of killing oneself intentionally”. While children are doubtless being used to detonate bombs in Nigerian markets, and are activating the explosion themselves, I’m not inclined to accept the definition of “intentional” here.

International human rights practices acknowledge that children do not have the agency to act in their own interests. Even if a child is willing, any underage sexual act is seen as rape because underage people are susceptible to coercion and should be protected by those who know better.

I think we can say the same for children who “choose” to take their own lives. Obviously, there is no question about coercion. No happy, well adjusted child wakes up one morning and decides to go and bomb a market full of people in support of some cause or another.

It’s safe to say that at the other end of every child who ever detonated a bomb, there’s a powerful adult brainwashing, indoctrinating and setting up the explosives. The child is the manifestation of that adult’s intentions. It’s possible that they don’t even know what they are doing.

Stuck for alternatives

While the “child suicide bomber” wording clearly explains to readers what happened (someone, a child, took their life and the lives of others by detonating an explosive device), it becomes an almost flippant expression of the realities of what’s happening. As if a child has somehow done this all on their own. As if the child’s death wasn’t core to the tragedy.

I’ve tried to think of a way to express this atrocity that satisfies my reasoning but doesn’t use up vital stacked headline spaces (and how horrendous to live in a time that we need a short definition for this act), and come up with the following:

  • Coerced suicide bomber
  • Child-detonated bomb
  • Forced child suicide bomber
  • Unwilling child used and killed in bomb attack

They don’t exactly trip off the tongue, do they? I’m not for a second deluding myself that the media of the world will update their style guides to accommodate my particular form of outrage, but I thought these points were worth making nonetheless:

These children are victims and these children have no choice. Stop dehumanising them and start talking about them as victims.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer and editor. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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