War & Peace

The Child Soldier

More than a decade ago in September 1990, the convention on the rights of the child became law. That convention is the most universally ratified human rights document and it is the standard against which we measure the success or failure of our efforts to serve the best interests of children.

However, during these last ten years, the world has seen a growing threat of armed conflict targeting children throughout the world where an increasing number of internal wars have impaired the protection and care of children whose lives are caught up in these conflicts so that our goal had fallen far from our aspiration.

Today’s wars are symptoms of such disorder that children are made increasingly vulnerable to the worse possible violence and abuse.

Civilian populations are brutally abandoned and these prolonged conflicts destroy their education, destroy their future and too often even their lives. This has taken place during this last decade when children’s best interests have been flouted with impunity in over thirty countries.

Disruption of children’s education during armed conflict carries a high cost over a lifetime by all society – children have a right to an education and it is governments and society’s obligation to provide it and it should always be compulsory and always be free.

This is far from reality in most of the undeveloped world where conflict abounds.

Thousands and thousands of children are killed every year as a direct result of fights from knives, wounds, bullets, bombs, landmines, machetes, grenades. But many more die from poor nutrition and diseases caused by increasing conflicts.

But even if they had never seen a gun, millions of children suffer from wars as resources that could be invested in development are diverted into armaments.

One of he most distressing realities of our times is that most wars have been fought in precisely these countries that are so impoverished, so woebegone that it is heartbreaking to see the further plunder and waste that goes into their economies.

Armed conflict for any nation is a public health hazard and the use of child soldiers has become a feature of armed conflict in every region of the world.

The figure of 350,000 children is tossed about but it has been called a conservative figure.

Many a child soldier is an abandoned child from an impoverished family. Robbed of an early family life having been the victim of poverty and the rule of the gun, born into loneliness, sometimes kidnapped or abducted by army recruiters, sometimes forced to chop off arms of a family member, forced to suffer guilt of having committed an atrocity.

He can not go home again and has learned early lessons of terror. This is the life a young child soldier must contend with. We expect them to live with these de-humanizing experiences once they are demobilized.

The ready availability of simple ready to use light weight automatic weapons ensures that children as young as seven years old serve as front line troops and are involved as messengers, guards camp servants, cooks, spies, for government brigades.

Normally about 1/3 of child soldiers are girls and most are combatants even if their role sometimes requires them to provide sexual services whether or not they are dignified as “wives”. Girls are often raped repeatedly.

Recruitment includes any means by which a person becomes a member of the armed forces including obligatory military service.

The countries with the highest number of child soldiers in the world in governmental armed forces are Afghanistan, Cambodia Burma, and Sri Lanka.

Many children under 15 are attracted to the prestige of the military but many-especially orphans and street children- have been forced to join. Some become porters to survey the roads for landmines with brooms and branches. Many children are killed in these situations and many are murdered if they attempt to escape, cannot keep up, or become ill,

A report recently released, disclosed that there are sill some 120,000 child soldiers under age 18, and some no older than seven years old, being used throughout the African continent.

The small arms and light weapons kill about a thousand people everyday and over 500,0o0 every year: 300,000 in warring areas, 200,000 in areas supposedly at peace.

About 560,000 small arms circulative today which does not include private collections. The legal trade in africa is between 4 and 6 billion dollars,

In latin america the trade is between 140 and 170 billion dollars

Proposals at the united nations were weakened when the final document during negotiations were being transacted because the united states was opposed to certain restrictions concerning civilian possession of light weight weapons.

It has been estimated that there were 1/2 million deaths in Mozambique alone between 1981-1985 of children who were too young to resist recruitment. Adults who were drawn into conflict manipulated them and when the child is separated from their families, the army may have an allure. Some children however are kidnapped, some are taken from orphanages, some from armed militias, some from the streets and others from wealthy homes and ransomed.

In these depressed regions of the globe, 46% of the population are illiterate and 50% of the population are malnourished.

600 million children less than 3 years old live without clean water, 250 million are thrown into child labor, 22 million are displaced by war, 13 million are orphaned and millions are victims of violence and sexual abuse.

I would like now to share with you some quotes i have gathered from the children themselves:

- I’ve seen so much that a child should never see- 17 years old, Rwanda

- Why do world leaders wage war all the time- 13 year old, Sudan

- Children have nothing o do with the war. They should leave us out of it- 10 year old, Ecuador

- When I found myself alone, I decided to become a soldier. Usually I was on the front line. I fought alot. I’m only a little soldier. I should return to school.

- My dream is to return home for one or tow days before I die. It would give me everything. I would go back to my house, my garden, my school.

- At first we were all flattered by the attention they gave us but now it has turned into a nightmare- girl, Sierra Leone

- The ground exploded around me. For a long time I hoped my leg would come back.- age 15

- It was very bad. They put all the 15 and 16 year olds in the front line while the army retreated. I was with 40 other kids. My friends were lying around me like stones. I was fighting for 24 hours. When I saw only three of my friends were alive, I ran back. –17 year old recruited at 14

- In Sudan we were distributed to men and I was given to a man who had just killed his woman. I was not given a gun but I helped in the abductions and grabbing of food from the villages. Girls who refused to become prostitutes were killed in front of us. - age 15

- When I was sixteen my job was to run into the killing fields and grab weapons. Watches, wallets, and any ammunition form the dead soldiers and bring it back to the bunker. This was a difficult job because the enemy could usually pick you off as you ran out an back again -Adolescent, Burma

Unless there is a sustained assistance level, we will see greater isolation of the global poor and exclusion from the world economy of millions more children.

We can add to this instability of the widening gap between the wealth of the developed countries and the poverty of the developing world.

The limited official disparity in assistance distributed by the donor community is such that Bosnia Herzegovina received $238. Per person and the Congo received only $3 per person.

The world community is unaware by and large of te intolerable situation of the child soldier that has been daily practiced in many countries.

Once we uncover these vile activities, these inhuman atrocities against our children, our outrage should reach the halls of the united nations security counsel and its spokesperson for children, Mr. Otanunu, who wants to monitor all those guilty countries who continue to use child soldiers under 18 years of age and bring their names to shame in the eyes of the world community.

Selma Brackman

Keynote Speaker:The Child Soldier
Montreal – Convention of the Rights of the Child
May 2002


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