CyberDodo and child soldiers (2-30)
What is a child soldier?
Child soldier, a terrible term that defines a child, that is a human being under the age of 18, used by armed groups engaged in conflict.
Throughout history, children have been enlisted in the service of wars. It would be correct to say that since the beginning of wars, there have existed child soldiers – that is forever. Some might ask why then we should now pay more attention to what they consider the « natural » propensity of man to fight with his fellow human beings, and the dramatic consequences for children thereof.
There are two primary reasons prompting a ban on the participation of legal minors in armed conflicts :
The first is the adoption of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, Article 38 of which recognizes the right of children to protection from enlistment in armed conflicts.
The second reason for demanding a total ban on child soldiers is the significant increase thereof since the 1990s, whereby more and more minors are involved in wars, often inter-ethnic conflicts pitting two populations of the same country against one another.
Girls and boys of all ages find themselves exploited for war-time service from kitchens to the battlefield, when not actually sacrificed in kamikaze attacks. Ideologically exploited by adults, according to Unicef in 2007 there were more than 300,000 innocent victims of conflicts that they were too young to even comprehend.
Why use children ?
In many countries including Colombia, Congo, Chad, Sri Lanka, etc., children are made to participate in wars in complete violation of their rights and international conventions duly signed by the governments of their countries. Why then are children exploited in this way ?
The reasoning of those who recruit children in such a horrific manner is as base as it is cruel – armies do not have enough soldiers and children are therefore often made to take on various subordinate tasks so that more adults can participate as soldiers. However, the children often find themselves with a gun in their hand rather quickly.
The cynicism of armies that resort to the use of child soldiers has no limit, considering that children are often chosen because they are less expensive in terms of food needs, and they are emotionally more fragile, hence more easily manipulated.
Kidnapped or otherwise forced to become soldiers, these children are completely denied access to an education. Witnesses often report child accomplices to atrocities, including against members of their own families. Child soldiers are profoundly and irrevocably affected by these nightmarish experiences.
Poverty, always poverty…
Unable to secure their livelihood, many families living in countries at war will have their children enrolled in the conflict simply to ensure their own sustenance. One or two less mouths to feed may represent a greater chance of survival for these stricken families. Poverty is thus one of the main reasons for the existence of child soldier troops. Without losing sight of other causes, the notion of revenge following the victimisation of a loved one, the liberation of a people or, more mundane, the prestige of a uniform and implicit power are factors particularly prevalent in inter-ethnic conflicts.
For the children, henceforth separated from their families and all source of security, unable to escape, it is the beginning of a descent into a hellish experience. At the disposal of adults for whom they represent mere cannon fodder, they will be « trained » to kill and torture and will ultimately become extremely efficient soldiers sent to the front line to engage in human slaughter.
If and when they survive, ill-adapted as they are, their trauma is of such magnitude that they will remain for a long time disoriented, not to mention with respect to their future- all this as children….
How can we prevent children from engaging in battle ?
In addition to the family-related factors indicated above, there are a number of other facilitating factors influencing the participation of children in armed conflict, among them drugs. It is a shocking situation whereby enlisted children are frequently drugged in order to muddle their comprehension of the inacceptable reality which has become their life, including the daily risk of death – an addiction provides them, once and again, with the will to fight.
There is another factor contributing to the participation of children in war : arms themselves ! There are hundreds of millions of arms dispersed throughout the world, facilitating the relatively easy use thereof by children. According to Unicef, there were over 500 million arms in free circulation in 2000.
Finally, cultural factors may also play a defining role in the emergence of child soldiers in societies that are largely militarised and/or deeply bellicose (From latin bellum = war or bellicosus = warrior). In these countries, a cult of violence and the prevalence of army-worship practically incite children to « naturally » fight, and as such, legitimate recourse to their participation during conflict. What’s more, insofar as schools exist, their curriculum is largely destined at the indoctrination of children – a volatile snare is laid bare at their feet.
Can a child soldier return to a normal life ?
It is possible to save these children ! The process which has been employed to traumatise and make combatants of children can be reversed. In a suitable environment in which they will be looked after, understood, supported and educated, these children are able to regain their confidence and sense of self that they lost and engage in rehabilitation on both the psychological and physical levels.
The above implies the engaged will of States and the adults running these countries, often times with links to those with whom they are going into battle. It moreover depends upon the economic capacity of these countries that often emerge ruined and ravaged after years at war. A viscious circle now complete, we once again encounter the very poverty that created conditions rife for the emergence of child soldiers.
How can we prevent the existence of child soldiers ?
Each country is free to decide the minimum age for the recruitment of « voluntary » soldiers. For example, the United States and France have set the age at 17, albeit the majority of countries subscribing to 17 as the minimum age for recruitment as a soldier.
This despite the fact that the International Convention on the Rights of the Child have set the minimum age for armed combatants at 15, which is widely accepted as being much too young.
What are the consequences of wars on children and civilians ?
A French writer and poet by the name of Paul Valéry provided the following definition of war, which responds to this haunting question :
« War, killing among individuals who do not even know each other, for the profit of individuals who do know each other, but who do not kill… » Paul Valéry
This report is dedicated to the children of Gaza, Israel, Iraq, Congo, Sudan, Lebanon, Africa, Tibet, Burma, Asia, etc., in other words, all of the children who suffer, live the madness that is the wars of adults.
Draft Text for Cyberdodo on OPAC
23 June 2009
Even though the Convention on the Rights of the Child says that no child under 15 years old can fight in a war, many people thought that 15 was still too young to fight. That is why, on 12 February 2002, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict was adopted. The Optional Protocol is an “add on” to the Convention on the Rights of Child that amends Article 38.
The Optional Protocol says that you must be 18 years old or over to fight in a war. This is now the international standard.
The Optional Protocol also contains some other important amendments to try and protect children from being exploited and harmed in wars. It prohibits the recruitment and use of children (anyone under the age of 18) by any armed group that is outside the government, for example rebel groups.
It also says that no-one under 18 can be forced to join government armed forces. Voluntary recruitment into national armed forces is still allowed but voluntary recruits must be above the age of 15 and they must not be forced in anyway, they must understand what they are volunteering for, they must have the consent of a parent or guardian and they must be able to prove their age.
Even if someone under the age of 18 volunteers to join the army, they are not allowed to be sent into war until they are 18.
To see the animated cartoon about Child Soldiers, click here
To see the quiz, click here
For the game, here
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