Child Soldiers: Examining the Solution

26 Sep

Guest blog post by Amanda F., Team Haiti 2012

When you think of a soldier what do you see? I picture a tall, strong man. He is a fearless fighter for his government; a positive exactitude, defending freedom and rights of the people of his country. That is not the case for child soldiers around the world. A child soldier is defined as, “a person under the age of 18 who directly or indirectly participates in an armed conflict as part of an armed force or group.” This definition is very cut and dry, but the life of a child soldier is so much more than that. Some children carry assault rifles, machetes or grenades on the front lines, while others are used in “combat support” roles as messengers, spies, cooks, mine cleaners and sexual slaves. These children have not only been robbed of their childhoods, many have personally experienced or witnessed executions, death squad killings, disappearances, torture, arrest, sexual abuse, bombings, forced displacement, destruction of their homes and massacres.

A 14 year old, abducted in 2000 by the Revolutionary United Front, in Sierra Leone said, “I’ve seen people get their hands cut off, a ten yer old girl raped and then die, and so many men and women burned alive, so many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn’t dare cry out loud.” (http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/briefing/ soldiers/index.htm) This ongoing trend of child soldiers is tragic and heartbreaking. According to recent investigation, the number of children who have been coerced or induced into armed forces as child soldiers is around 300,000.  The youngest child soldiers are around 7 years old, the average age of a first grader in America. Over 50 countries currently recruit children under 18 into their armed forces and no one is spared; over 1/3 of these children are female.

The big question, at least for me, is how? How do children become soldiers? Hunger and poverty may drive parents to offer children for service or attract children to offer themselves as a way of guaranteeing regular meals and clothing. Some of these children become soldiers to protect themselves or their families from the violence that surrounds them, and others, especially adolescents, are lured in by the power of rebel leaders. The majority, however, are forced. Children are easily impressionable and can be manipulated into becoming “ruthless and unquestioning tools of war.” In fact, the children commit some of the most heinous war crimes.

Even if kids are fortunate enough to escape forced military life, they are still left abandoned and alone; some with injuries and others with drug addictions. They have no parents and live in anxiety and fear in refugee camps. Along with their stolen innocence, they are left physically and psychologically scarred. They are deprived of any decent adult role model and develop a dependence on the military lifestyle to stay alive. They are neglected any education and have participated in rape and killing before reaching the age of a typical high school student.

Governments throughout the world have tried to make laws and enforce punishments, but change within the armed forces is painfully slow.  To me the answer is simple: prevention. We need to band together, spread the world and save the children. Save an orphan…one less soldier…save the world.

Amanda resides in Ramona, California and will be serving with Journey 117 in October on Team Haiti.

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