Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Child Soldiers

I've chosen to write another text post, about child soldiers. I chose this topic as I believe it's an important issue. I think it is bad enough that children's lives are torn apart by wars they didn't start. Forcing them to fight for something they don't believe in is in my opinion, one of the most gruesome acts a child could be exposed to. Raising awareness of it, even in this small scale, is the start of preventing it in the future. There are three subtitles I want to explore in this text, and those are how, why and what.

The internationally agreed definition of a child soldier is any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. Which means, not only the fighters are child soldiers.

Many of you might think that child soldiers only appear in Africa, but the fact is that it is happening everywhere in the world. The participation of child soldiers has been reported in almost every armed conflict since 2000, in almost every region of the world. It's been reported from many countries, to mention some the Philippines, Afghanistan, Iraq, but mostly in African countries.

Okay, the first area to explore: How are children recruited as soldiers?
Of course most children are forced to join. They get abducted from school, as we've heard about on the news recently, when more than 200 girls were abducted by an army in Nigeria. Other typical places children are abducted from are the streets, of course, or at home.
Different military groups may even raid a village, burn the houses, rape the women, kill the fathers and bring the children to a camp, where they are beaten into submission and forced to join the group.
As a part of the recruitment in such raids, the children are often forced to kill a family member and by doing that breaking the bonds with their community or family. Most child soldiers are forced to kill. In the camps they are brought to it's normal to blindfold them, give them a gun, point it in the direction of another child and force the blindfolded kid to fire. The adults say that it is easier to make your first kill if you don't look, and killing more gets easier.

However there are some young people who join the military groups voluntarily. Often to escape poverty, defend their communities, ideological reasons or to get a feeling of revenge.
I have two examples of recruitment. One is a former child soldier, taken when he was 13, he said: “When they came to my village, they asked my older brother whether he was ready to join the militia. He was just 17 and he said no; they shot him in the head. Then they asked me if I was ready to sign, so what could I do - I didn't want to die”
Another example is from an Indonesian boy, who worked as an informant for the armed political group Free Aceh Movement, to spy on the Indonesian military at age 17, he said:"I know the work [monitoring the apparatus] is dangerous, and my parents had tried to stop me from getting involved. But I want to do something for the nanggroe therefore I was called for the fight. I am ready for all risks."

Let's get over to the second subtitle, Why children?
Using children in armed conflicts is without doubt a tactical choice. Children are easier to brainwash, manipulate and threaten. They do not claim wage, and they are loyal and obedient. The children below ten years old, and maybe older, may not even be aware of what they are doing, so it gets easier to make them do different tasks.
The last decades small arms have been easier to access, and cheaper to buy. In some African countries you can easily buy an AK-47 for less than two US dollars. AK-47 is a common weapon given to child soldiers as it is light-weight and small, but efficient.
Another factor making it easy to use child soldiers is that the armed conflicts of today are mostly civil-wars. The last fifty years, the number of international armed conflicts have been decreasing, national conflicts however is increasing. Using child soldiers internationally would be a lot harder. The increasing number of armed groups is also contributing to the recruitment.

The third, and last subtitle is what. What are children used for, or made to do, in armed conflicts?
In many conflicts children take direct part in combat, however, their roles are hardly ever limited to fighting. Most boys and girls start in support functions, which also is a great risk. In fact, one of the most common tasks assigned to children is to serve as porters or servers. Meaning they carry heavy loads, often ammunition or injured soldiers. Other tasks that can be assigned to them are being a lookout, messenger, cook or doing other routine duties. Both boys and girls are often used as sex slaves. Gang rape is not uncommon.
In modern warfare a new phenomenon has emerged in the world of child soldiers. That is using them as suicide bombers, and for other acts of terror. This has been reported in, among other countries, Iraq and the Philippines.
Now I want to introduce you to Agnes from Uganda. When she was ten years old, she was abducted from her own garden, by Joseph Kony's army. When she was 11, she was forced to kill another child who had tried to escape. When Agnes was twelve, she had suffered for two years, being forced to kill, used as a servant, threatened and beaten. When she was twelve she got married to one of the commandants, so that he could rape her. When she was thirteen she managed to flee. Agnes was lucky, she got away, most children don't.

There is no doubt that no matter how children are recruited, or what they do in their roles, they are victims. Their participation in war causes severe troubles, both physically and emotionally. It is not guaranteed that they will reintegrate into the community when and if, they manage to flee. Former child soldiers who are interviewed tend to mention the power they felt as they held a weapon in their hands. If they were in the military group for a long while, they may even have been brainwashed into believing violence is the answer, or that no one is to be trusted.

Today it is estimated that there are approximately 250 000 child soldiers, in which 40% are girls. Mainly military rebel groups use child soldiers, but there are some governments using them as well.

There is an international law declaring that 18 is the minimum legal age for recruitment and use of children in hostilities, recruiting and using children below 15 years old is defined as a war crime. Even though this helps providing attitude and awareness around the issue, not all countries have signed it. In February 2014, a total of 152 countries had signed it.

There is little to do for an average individual, however helping through an organization is rather easy. One can either donate money, if so, I recommend warchild.org.uk, or you could always join the different organizations and work directly with the issue, working with campaigns or talking to leaders who can impact the use of child soldiers in their conflict are two examples of what to do.

The past decade has seen a steady commitment to ending the use and abuse of children in conflict, and a strengthened framework to protect minors and bring leaders like Joseph Kony to justice. Let's just hope that people understand they                                                               have to stop waiting for the world to change, and start changing it themselves.

New pictures coming by the end of the week, so stay tuned!

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