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Child pirate

In keeping with the Paris Principles definition of a child soldier, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child pirate' as any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by a pirate gang in any capacity, including children - boys and/or girls - used as gunmen in boarding parties, hostage guards, negotiators, ship captains, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes, whether at sea or on land. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in kinetic criminal operations.

Children may volunteer to participate in piratical activities (usually on account of socioeconomic desperation, familial suggestion or peer influence) or they may be forcibly abducted by piratical gangs.

There are a number of reasons why an adult pirate commander would view children as being of significant tactical value. These perceptions render children vulnerable to abduction or forced recruitment. As noted by Carl Conradi:

In other cases, children may volunteer to participate in piratical activities. However, as asserted by the Canada-based Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, "'voluntary' enlistment must be understood in terms of the limited choices and circumstances that may exist in the context of a particular country."’ If a child is extremely poor, has been displaced from his or her home, has been separated from his or her family, has limited educational opportunities or has been exposed to conflict, there is an increased likelihood that he or she will view piracy as a legitimate vehicle for social advancement.

In the absence of specific international legislation on juvenile maritime piracy, the precise age of a child’s criminal responsibility when committing piratical acts differs from country to country. There are, however, a number of international conventions pertaining to either maritime law or children’s rights that may provide some guidance as to the proper handling of child pirates.

While the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, 1982) does not discuss children’s involvement in maritime criminal activities, it does provide a clear definition of piracy. According to Article 101, piracy is:

UNCLOS does recognise universal jurisdiction over the crime of piracy but it only applies to criminal acts that take place on international waters. If an act of piracy occurs within a country’s territorial waters, it is a matter of state jurisdiction and prosecution.

Article 3 of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182, 1999) stipulates that:

"Like warlords, pirate commanders recruit children because they are vulnerable and easily manipulated; fearless and ignorant of the long-term consequences of their actions; inexpensive to maintain; plentiful in developing countries most afflicted by piracy; small in stature and therefore nimble; easily indoctrinated; largely invulnerable to legal proceedings; and because they pose a moral challenge to their enemies."”
a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
i. on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
ii. against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
c) any act of inciting or intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).
i. on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
ii. against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
i. on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
ii. against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
…the term the worst forms of child labour comprises:
a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs defined in the relevant international treaties;
d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
"In Nigeria, young unemployed men, in particular, are frequently enticed into the organized pirate gangs operating in the Delta region by “…promised riches, fancy cars, luxury goods and weapons,” such that these gangs are increasingly composed of younger members. It has also become recognized that in Nigeria, social mobility and the struggle for survival now necessitate the use of violence as “…society gradually stopped recognizing merit and force became a plausible avenue to the top of social and economic strata with drug trafficking, smuggling and other perceived moneymaking ventures like armed robbery, seen as ways to get rich quickly."”’
"In March 2011, Indian naval forces operating in the Arabian Sea captured the Mozambique-flagged fishing vessel Vega 5. Somali pirates had kidnapped the trawler’s original crew several months earlier. They subsequently refurbished the stolen craft into an operationally significant "mothership". Of the 61 marauders who were arrested during the Indian raid, an astonishing 25 persons – or some 40% of the entire crew – were determined to be under the age of 15. Indeed, ensuring reports revealed that four of the pirates could not have been older than 11."'
"During a recent visit to the autonomous Somali region of Puntland, former UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, was told by a jailed adult pirate that his colleagues and superiors were increasingly reliant upon child recruits when attempting seize ships for ransom. Many of the adults who are responsible for directing piracy operations only do so from their homes on land, rather than from motherships on the high seas. As such, according to Ms. Coomaraswamy, the individuals actually sent out to, "…do the dangerous stuff are the young children, between the ages of 15, 16 and 17.""'
"As part of its military strategy, the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] maintained “…the most comprehensive naval networks among the [US-designated] foreign terrorist organizations…”. This branch of operations, called the Sea Tigers, launched a multitude of attacks upon international cargo ships, including several – such as the Greek-registered freighter Stillus Limassul – that were carrying weapons to be used by the Sri Lankan military. Like its army, the LTTE’s naval branch actively recruited and deployed child soldiers. Indeed, there is evidence that during periods of LTTE-sponsored disarmament of child soldiers, underage members of the Sea Tigers were surreptitiously retained, as they had frequently received resource-intensive training that made them particularly strong military assets." It was also very common for “…very young Tamils (some as young as 13) [to be] pressed into service to fill the [naval] ranks as the long-running insurgency depleted LTTE manpower.”'


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