Ever heard of young people leaving their country to join the Islamic State in Syria? Ever seen a picture with a child holding a gun? Willing or not to do so, they are all Child Soldiers and their situations concern people worldwide.
Firstly, what’s a child soldier? It is a person under the age of 18 who has been recruited by an armed group, either by force or despite their age. It doesn’t only concern children used as soldiers on the front line, but also messengers, spies, suicide bombers, human shields. They might also have to complete domestic duties such as cooking or cleaning; and in most cases they are forced into sexual relationships.
To understand the issue of this situation, here are testimonies of some children by the association Child Soldiers International:
First with this example of a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was taken when he was 13 (source: BBC Report)
“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.”
Or this other example of Maung Zaw Oo, forced twice into the Tatmadaw Kyi in 2005 – Myanmar:
“They filled the forms and asked my age, and when I said 16 I was slapped and he said, ‘You are 18. Answer 18’. He asked me again and I said, ‘But that’s my true age’. The sergeant asked, ‘Then why did you enlist in the army?’ I said, ‘Against my will. I was captured.’ He said, ‘Okay, keep your mouth shut then,’ and he filled in the form. I just wanted to go back home and I told them, but they refused. I said, ‘Then please let me make one phone call,’ but they refused that too.”
You might think that it’s an isolated phenomenon, but you’re wrong. There are around 250 000 child soldiers worldwide, of which 40% are girls that are used as ‘wives’ (meaning sex slave for soldiers).
But why them? The younger they are the easier it is to brainwash them, and make them believe that it’s just a game. Worse than that? They don’t have a full sense of fear yet, and so they are easier to send on the battlefield than adult soldiers. For that reason, when they are used as soldiers, they are usually put in the first line to draw the enemy’s fire.
Even if at some point they are set free or they get to escape, the scar left by the war can stay with them for the rest of their lives:
*A lot of them cannot go back home because during their recruitment they might have been asked to kill a member of the family or the community.
*Girls who got pregnant from being sex slaves are not accepted by their family
*Being on the front line desensitised them from violence and suffer from psychological damage
*They missed out on schools and if at the same time their families don’t accept them back, there is a probability that they will go back to the armed groups, as it is their only way to be fed.
This situation breaks a number of human rights, so governments and international organisations took action and set up plans to try and stop the expansion of the child soldiers’ phenomenon.
*The UN signed actions plans with 23 groups (including 11 government forces and 12 non State armed groups) and, as of today, 9 have been unlisted after achieving their plans.
*The UN Security council launched a campaign in March 2014 called Children, Not Soldiers to raise awareness about the situation, end and prevent the recruitment of children.
* There are also some organisations, such as War Children, who give these children a voice. They also support the children during their recovery and help them to go back to school.
*Extract from the war child organisation website