Sending a soldier off to fight a war is one thing. Every nation needs some sort of military for defensive capabilities at the very least. Sending children off to become soldiers, however, is a very different topic. It’s bad enough that a war can tear away a child’s life from them. The words “child” and “solider” shouldn’t go together, but on the African continent, it is quite common.
It is estimated that there are at least 250,000 child soldiers fighting in the world today. The total number could be above 300,000.
Child Soldiers in Africa
To put all the blame onto the governments of Africa would be unfair. A majority of the child soldiers who are fighting are placed into service from rebel groups who are trying to take over their nation. Even so, there are still some governments who will not hesitate to use a child as a soldier during an armed conflict.
- 40%. That’s the percentage of child soldiers that are estimated to be girls. They are drafted into military service and ordered to become the “wives” of male soldiers so the men can have sex.
- Not all children take part in active combat. Some are also used as porters, cooks and spies.
- One of the most common initiation rights for a child to become a soldier is to injure, maim, or kill a family member as this breaks any bonds they have with home.
- The number of governments who have not committed to removing child soldiers from government military forces: 2 [Yemen and Sudan].
- Six countries have committed to the United Nations an end to child soldier recruitment since 2012.
- The recruitment of child soldiers breaks several human rights laws.
Why are children used as soldiers in the first place? There are two key reasons: they are easy to educate and they don’t cost as much to feed. Be able to pay reduced salaries could be a potential third reason. Kids also don’t really sense danger in the same way that adults do. To them, being a soldier is a lot like playing a game. It’s a surreal world that is similar to combat video games, but happening in real life. At first the experience might seem fun, but as reality sets in and they gain a comprehension of what they’ve been doing, the life of a child can quickly be destroyed. That’s why intervening now to prevent child soldier recruitment is so necessary.
Is Poverty To Blame For the Average Child Soldier?
- Some children are under the age of 10 when they are forced to serve as a child soldier. There are cases of children under the age of 8 being in combat.
- Although some children decide to fight for vengeance or ideological reasons, it is more common for families to volunteer their children so they can have food to eat.
- Since 1998, over 100,000 child soldiers have been released from armed groups and reintegrated into their communities without formal demobilization.
- Between 2008 and 2009, Unicef helped to reintegrate more than 24,000 former child soldiers.
- In many African nations, children who are fighting as soldiers were kidnapped from their families when they were young and forced into rebellion groups.
- According to eyewitnesses, children in Uganda who failed to perform a family initiation would be beaten or killed for their disobedience.
- Up to 30% of the fighting forces in Africa are made up of second generation child soldiers.
It’s the final statistic in this set that is most alarming. Children who were fighting and have now grown up and had kids of their own are either being forced or find no qualm in having their offspring become child soldiers as well. This is setting the stage for a cycle of violence where it will simply become a normal environment for African families. Some kids get driver’s licenses as a right of passage. Kids in Africa get machine guns.
Why Is Stopping Child Soldiers In African So Important?
- Children who try to escape from their service as a soldier are typically killed if they are caught.
- Most child soldiers are forced to serve as far away from their homes as possible to reduce the chances of escape.
- Children are told that if they try to escape or fail to serve, the dead will haunt them.
- Many kids are forced to drink human blood as part of the initiation process or swear blood oaths to the government or group they are serving.
- In Sudan, it is still legal to put children to death who have been convicted of a crime, including abandonment of their post.
- Although it is illegal for a country to put anyone under the age of 18 into combat, it isn’t a war crime unless a nation is actively recruiting children under the age of 15 for military service.
- More than 3,000 children right now are being detained in Pakistan with no formal charges, no convictions, and no trials.
When is the age of responsibility? That’s a question that every nation must answer for their systems of responsibility, but that’s in the world of juvenile justice. In the world of the child soldier, the responsibility to give or take life comes far too early. Children are forced away from concepts like mercy and taught that true justice comes from a bullet. This attitude is reinforced by killing the children who refuse to adapt to the brainwashing that is taking place. These kids have nowhere else to go, trapped in a terrible middle where many of them don’t want to be. By providing them a new home or being able to integrate them back into their previous home, the cycle of violence can begin to end. It requires action, however, and that action must start today.