Child Soldiers – From Cradle to War!
Rawan is only 13 years old, even though he looks much older. He was mere 11 years old when he was forced to leave his home to become a child soldier. Like him, there are thousands of children who lose their innocence and sweet nothingness at a very young age! This is a harsh reality which many of us don’t really think about. All these children are the living proof of the dreadful events where they are used in brutal, inhumane activities. Read on to know more about these helpless child soldiers and their turmoils.
From Cradle to War!
Many children from around the globe are recruited into various armed groups, civil militia, paramilitaries and government armed forces. The active participation of children below 18 is strictly prohibited under international laws. Also, the use and recruitment of children below 15 is considered as a war crime.
Still, the innocent children are forcibly recruited into these armed groups. They are most often abducted from home, on the streets or at school. On the other hand, a few “voluntarily” enlist, as they don’t find any viable alternatives.
The child soldiers are robbed of their innocent childhood and exposed to physical and psychological suffering as well as terrible dangers. These children are used to clear or lay landmines, as servants, porters, messengers, spies, or placed in combat situations. In particular, girls are at risk of sexual abuse and rape.
Children in Conflict
Here is a shocking and disturbing fact! In the last decade, more than 2 million children have been killed in conflicting situations. Also, over 10 million children have been inflicted with serious psychological trauma, over 6 million have been permanently disabled or seriously injured and over 1 million have been brutally orphaned.
War or any other conflict situation affects every phase of a child’s development. The adverse conditions which makes them more susceptible include:
- Deprived of recreation and education
- Traumatized victims when exposed to violence
- Subjected to exploitation and sexual abuse
- Separated from parents/families or orphaned
- Refugees or internally displaced
- Violently uprooted from their houses and communities
- Severely injured or killed
It is quite possible that these children would be deprived of minimal needs like medical attention, food and shelter. Additionally, child relief becomes the last priority in conflicting situations and wars, which leads to little or no protection for the children. Apart from this, children are highly vulnerable to being deprived of education, medical assistance and food – this has a lasting, severe impact on their overall development.
An Affront to Humanity
Here is another shocking revelation! There have been armed insurgencies involving child soldiers in 36 countries since 1998! Although, the traumatic scars inflicted on these kids can’t be healed. Ex-child soldiers can at best forget their needs.
Children who come from disadvantaged and poor families seeking a sense of belonging, revenge for their surmountable losses or physical support are most vulnerable to exploitation during these troubled times. Other children are forcibly recruited to become fighters.
For example, it has been estimated that 10,000 children have been kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda over the last 15 years, alone. They are easily targeted as they can be easily manipulated when compared with adults as well as indoctrinated to perform atrocities and crimes without any hint of remorse!
Here are the harsh ground realities about child soldiers in Somalia and Chad! These accounts will surely make you think twice before writing off their perils.
The Predicament of Somalian Children!
In a recent report released by Amnesty International,the magnitude of war crimes adversely affecting the children in Somalia as well as the regular recruitment of children below 15 by armed Islamist forces has been exposed.The report, “In the line of fire: Somalia’s children under attack” exposes the overall impact on children of the ensuing armed conflicts.
- Somalian children are regularly being assigned as fighters, injured or killed mercilessly in attacks and denied education.
- According to Michelle Kagari, who is the African Deputy Director for Amnesty International, Somalia is emerging as a children’s crisis and a human rights’ crisis, apart from being a humanitarian crisis.
- The Amnesty report analyzed over 200 testimonies from the Somalian refugees in Djibouti and Kenya. Most people cited the child recruitment by armed groups as the primary reason for deserting central and southern Somalia.
- The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia is marked on the UN list of shame as a political party maiming, killing, using and recruiting harmless, innocent children in armed conflicts. Even after committing to respect the basic children rights, the government has failed to adopt concrete measures to curb and eliminate using child soldiers on its side.
- Education has severely suffered as school buildings have been damaged or destroyed in attacks in urban areas. Most of the schools in Mogadishu have been closed down as teachers and children fear being injured and killed on their way.
- One of the main armed groups opposing the Somalian government, Al-Shabab has been using school premises to indoctrinate kids into becoming child soldiers, banning particular subjects from being taught, preventing girls from going to school, or imposing severe restrictions.
The innocent children have been victims of merciless floggings and witnessed a range of horrifying human rights’ abuses, such as killings, amputations and stoning in public carried out by armed Islamist groups.
Among the Somalian refugees, including children, there is a high trauma level from the shocking human rights’ abuses they either witnessed or experienced at the time of conflict!
Children in Chad – A Compromised Future!
In Chad, innocent children are still being cruelly used by the opposition groups and army. In recent years, thousands have joined the armed conflict between the rebel groups and the Chadian army which has intensified in the area. Also, the Darfur conflict in Sudan has engulfed the eastern Chad.
Majority of the kids are boys belonging from the 13-18 age group, although some are merely 10 years old! They usually receive combat training, involving weapons handling. Also, many are part of combat fighting.
Even if some children have been forced into becoming child soldiers, others were encouraged to avenge looting and killing by their communities. Most kids have been driven by the lack of education and jobs as well as extremes of poverty in their villages.
Surprisingly, the Chadian army declines any involvement in employing and using children. Most of the refugee camps are the places of growing despair and lost hopes where recruiters prowl for young boys. The Chadian government fails to eliminate the use of child soldiers, despite repeated promises and hope!
Child Soldiers – Putting a Stop!
Various organizations are working in tandem to raise the minimum age for active participation to 18 years in armed forces.
This is built on the basic principles of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. In order to achieve this, a UN working group was formed to develop an Optional Protocol in 1994.
- Many measures have been identified which can reduce or curb the use of children as fighters/soldiers. Local communities, for example, must be made more aware of the basic national and international laws about the minimum recruitment age.
- Civil society, religious groups and non-governmental organizations can play a very important role in forging ethical framework. This framework will deem children’s active participation in any armed conflicts or war as unacceptable and inhumane.
- Forced recruitments have subsided in Peru where parish churches have banned the activity. The mothers of child soldiers and ethnic groups in Paraguay, Guatemala and El Salvador have established units in order to pressurize authorities to release under-age soldiers.
- One more crucial preventive measure is the early and active tracing and documentation of lonely children in displaced persons or refugee camps. To minimize the chances of children being recruited or enticed, refugee camps can be located far from war or conflict zones.
- It is important that the international community should implement specific, stringent protection measures for the rising number of child soldiers who are separated from their families. Also, they must increase education programs and psychosocial support for the dislocated children.
Children are the most gifted individuals who are not tainted or polluted with the ways of the world. Every child in this world has the right to live life far away from the grim, harsh realities. Let us not tarnish their sweet, innocent childhood with the frightening incidents of war and other atrocities.
In the words of Grace Manuel, “War violates every right of a child – the right to life, the right to be with family and nurtured and respected.”