Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Little Soldiers

The other day I wrote about children in Iraq who are living with the consequences of war and violence in their countries. But another danger for children living in countries where war takes place is the use of children as soldiers.
When many people think of child soldiers, they think of African countries. Central Africa, especially, has a large problem with child soldiers. But many other countries around the world also use child soldiers, including Colombia, Russia, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan, Israel, Iraq and Yemen.
Some children, especially those between the ages of 14 and 18, voluntarily become soldiers. Many of these children come from poverty-stricken areas, are already separated from their families, and think that becoming a soldier will be their best shot at survival.
However, other children are actually kidnapped and forced to become soldiers. In Uganda, for instance, a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army routinely kidnaps children from their homes or boarding schools and force them to become soldiers. These children are often taken when their villages are raided by the LRA. They are sometimes forced to kill other members of their villages, including their own parents or siblings. That way, the LRA prevents the children from ever trying to return to their villages. They can tell the children, "You killed these people. You can never go home now. They won't let you in. All you have is us." This brainwashing keeps the children obedient and loyal to their kidnappers.
In order to avoid being kidnapped, many children of UGanda leave their small villages or camps each night and walk for hours to reach larger towns, where they will be safer in public settings. They sleep outside in bus shelters or doorways, or go to specially-set-up shelters, to keep themselves safe all night.

In countries where child soldiers are used, children are considered valuable resources to the military groups who use them, because they learn quickly and can easily be controlled. They haven't finished growing up, their morals and beliefs aren't fully formed yet, and the military groups can effectively raise the children to be super-killers. They can be sent ahead of adult soldiers into dangerous areas to detect landmines and other traps.
Most child soldiers are boys, but many girls are also taken as soldiers. Besides being forced to fight, girl soldiers often are sexually abused by the adults.
Some children manage to escape,,, but if they try to escape and fail, they are often tortured or even executed by their captors. So most children do not even try.
Some organizations work to help child soldiers. They try to rescue children from their kidnappers, or provide a place for children to go if they do manage to escape. But even if a child manages to make it to an organization that will help him, the situation is a lot more complicated than just being reunited with their families and living happily ever after. Some children's families have been killed by the same people who took the children. Other children will be rejected by their family members because of the crimes they've been forced to commit. Some children fear, quite appropriately, that the captors will find them, and kidnap them again. (In fact, some children who did escape and go back home have been re-captured and executed as punishment!)
Plus, child soldiers need a lot of help in order to someday have normal lives. They are usually filled with anger, and have had to detatch from their emotions in order to survive being abused and being forced to hurt and kill other people. Organizations that help child soldiers must first rehabilitate them, providing intensive therapy, as well as regular things like food, clothing and education.
Some organizations that have programs dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating child soldiers include SOS Children's Villages, World Vision, WarChild, and the Coalition to Stop The Use of Child Soldiers.
It is a horrible thing that children are suffering this way. I hope that someday, somehow, we will be able to put an end to war, and really protect our children.


Casdok said...

Me to.

Scarlett_333 said...

That is so sad. The book A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Bea (I think that is his name, I am trying to remember as I don't have my copy with me!) is all about his experiences being a child soldier in Sierra Leone, I think (can you tell I read it when it first came out and am a little fuzzy on the details? :) ) It is amazing and really shows you what is must be like.