The Use of Child Soldiers: Children of Conflict
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 13 Feb 2023
René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service
12 February is the United Nations sponsored International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers. Efforts to counter the use of persons under 18 years of age in the military began with non-governmental efforts in 1979 – which the U.N. had proclaimed as “The International Year of the Child”.
Nicolas Hulot, who later became well known in France for his reporting on ecology and the defence of the environment, had written “Ces Enfants qui souffrent” (Paris: Sipa-Press, 1978). He highlighted children dying from malnutrition, disease, and injury caused by wars and natural disasters. Hulot’s cry of conscience showed children fighting and being trained to fight in a number of countries in different parts of the world.
Child soldiers in Uganda. [Source: gulfnews.com]
Concern with the welfare of children has been an inter-governmental concern going back to the League of Nations days. However, the use of child soldiers was rarely mentioned as the professional military prior to the Second World War had persons over 18, usually the youngest were in their 20s. However, the German Nazi used very young men in the last days of the war to try to limit the impact of the Allied forces within Germany. There were a number of films and books which told of their efforts. However, attention did not carry on once the Nazi forces were defeated.
Building on the NGO efforts in 1979 during the International Year of the Child, in the period 1993-1996, there was a U.N. study on the “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children” led by Ms Graça Machel, later the wife of Nelson Mandela. She wrote “For too long, the consequences for children have been tolerated as an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of war. In reality, children have increasingly become targets and not incedental victims, as a result of conscious and deliberate decisions made by adults.”
As a result of the Graça Machel study in 1997, the U.N. General Assembly named Ambassador Olara A. Otunnu as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. He placed an emphasis on the moral vacuum in which all restraints have been eroded and discarded – a world in which children are no longer precious. He wrote,
“At the heart of this growing phenomenon of mass violence and social disintegration is a crisis of values. Perhaps the most fundamental loss a society can suffer is the collapse of its own value system. Many societies exposed to protracted conflicts have seen their community values radically undermined, if not shattered altogether. This has given rise to an ethical vacuum – a setting in which international standards are ignored with impunity and where local value systems have lost their sway. Distinctions between civilians and combatants have broken down. Children, women, the elderly – all have become fair game in the single-minded struggle for power.”
Ambassador Otunnu was from Uganda which had seen more than its share of the breakdown of social norms and resulting violence such as that carried on by the Lord’s Resistance Army which systematically abducted children to be used as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves starting in 1987 but building on earlier armed movements. He was in exile and given citizenship by the Cote d’Ivoire which had appointed him Ambassador to the U.N. During the sessions of the U.N. Committee on Human Rights, he was in Geneva, and we had long discussions. He was very open to the spirit of Citizens of the World and the need to develop universal norms so as to move beyond an unregulated struggle for power.
Olara Otunnu wrote “Children represent the future of human civilization and the future of every society. To permit them to be used as pawns in warfare, whether as targets or perpetrators, is to cast a shadow on the future. From generation to generation, violence begets violence, as the abused grow up to become abusers. Children who are thus violated carry the scars of fear and hatred in their hearts and minds. Forced to learn to kill instead of pursuing education, the children of conflict lack the knowledge and skills needed to build their futures and the futures of their communities. For a society, the lives destroyed and the opportunities lost could have a devastating effect on its long-term stability and development.
René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues,
Teach Kids Peace
Forcing Children to Fight in Sri Lanka
The Toronto Star reports on shocking events in Sri Lanka, where irregular forces aligned with the government have been kidnapping children to force them to serve as soldiers. Both the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have investigated numerous accusations of child kidnapping. According to Human Rights Watch:
There is "clear and compelling evidence"that Sri Lankan government forces are helping guerrillas to kidnap boys andyoung men to turn them into child soldiers.
However, it is not just the government side that isguilty of these horrible tactics. The Tamil Tigers, who have been fighting the Sri Lankan government in a bloody campaign since the early 1970s, have been often reprimanded for forcing children to fight. The Tigers are considered one of the most ruthless and violent terrorist groups in the world. They are notorious for suicide bombings that have taken the lives of countless civilians. According to the BBC:
Apart from fighting a conventional war, the apparent willingnessof the Tigers to target civilians has been highlighted in instances when they have deliberately attacked villagers. In one pre-dawn attack in late 1999, Tiger units were accused of hacking to death women and children in a majority Sinhala village.
Over 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Sri Lanka. While violence subsided during a four-year truce,that truce now seems to be over. The Tamil Tigers have even been accused of recruiting children made orphan by the 2004 tsunami which killed hundreds of thousands. According to HumanRights Watch:
The Tamil Tigers are preying on the most vulnerable by taking advantage of children who have been orphaned or displaced. Every effort must be made to stop this unconscionable recruiting from families who have already suffered so much.
For more information, these articles from the NewYork Times and CBC news provide background on the conflict.
TeachKidsPeace deplores the excess violenceand child abuse being practiced by both sides of the conflict and questions why the world media does not focus more attention on this part of the world. Certainly the fact that children are being kidnapped and murdered on a daily basis should be considered "newsworthy." We wonder why the media seems obsessed with certain parts of the world while ignoring terrible tragedies in other areas.
Write to your local media and political representatives and demand that more attention be given to the use of children bythose waging war in Sri Lanka.
Stop child abuse,teach kids peace.
Please forward this e-mail to whomever you feel might be interested.
Thank you for your involvement in TeachKidsPeace.
TeachKidsPeace, a project of Honest Reporting, works to bring attention to the abuse of children through indoctrination and exploitation.
November 30, 2006
To the children in the World
November 20th - International Day of children rights
When we see a baby in a cradle and his tenderness is inspiration, the younger deprive of hope where the convulsive environment injury them and us in this century of the big developments. A world of new technologies, even more theincreasing moral and climate unbalance. We wonder..What will happen with them?. May be will be possible live in theequilibrium of the necessary things and fight for challenges in an internal fight to help the usual nor unusual, theinterest nor the uninterested wondering where is going on our internal child, the child we have birth, the child that needus.There are places they are abandoned, they are easy target, they are outraged and the probes are hidden.
During the Convention for the rights of children signed this day November 20th, the date the Assembly approve theDeclaration for Children Rights in 1959: Right to the Education, Right to the Identity and the Family, Right to theParticipation, Right to the Protection, Right to the good Health.
During the peak of the millennium, politics leaders made rules for the eight most important principium of the Millennium(ODM) they started reducing the poverty and the needing to stop the increasing virus of VIH and the firm conception ofthe universal primary school till year 2015, these concepts are pointed to the humankind mainly to the childhood.
UNICEF and governmental and private organizations around the world are working hard to protect them even that, we know ineveryplace violence is more frequently as we think. Todaychildren are ill treatment physically, psychically they’reabandon, suffering of Munchausen’s syndrome, most of them are punished by people who are in charge of their security.
The children are members of the society with less capacity of self protection, children in the school, in the orphanage,in the streets, in zone of wars, in centers of exclusion, in fields, in factories..
This is a disturbing and persistent situation in several parts of the globe. In each child I’m from my childhood sodifferent to gave them love I wish to shout for the life, so I hold them: The children in Kenya, 93% are orphans shattered by VIH , the younger immigrants expulsed from the borders, theprisoners children in Paraguay, the whipped in Arabian, the killed in the Congo Republic, whose are demanded hard worksand prostitution in Africa and Thailand, the children soldiers in Sri Lanka and Colombia, like these more cases arehappened , right there where the protection seams is a hard and insufficient work in this modern present time we are living. All these make us watch the existence of a isolate love into the loneliness of the children. If we only see ourown around without showing others that there are more children living defenseless, is possible to add in the fight withthis children eyes, they need us never mind their races and traditions, they are also our children,
To you, my child:
Hold your heavy load
Take down the strength of the inertia
Come to the sparkling down
Sat on the soft seat in the grass.
Poet, Windows Live Messenger
November 21, 2006
Leo Semashko’s note: November 20th is the Universal Children's Day in the UN Days (look: www.UNmeditation.org), with which I also congratulate all co-authors our Harmonious Era Calendar and site devoted to a priority of children in the world. I offer Susana Roberts to include in the Harmonious Era Calendar (http://www.peacefromharmony.org/?cat=ru_c&key=190) the International Day of Children Rights at date of statement of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 ( http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/crc.pdf).
Help to Uganda Children traumatized by the 19 years war!
Sun, 1 May 2005
Greetings. I am wondering whether there any one in this forum (IFLAC) with information on free resources on Psycho Social Counseling & Support for Children affected by war. This can be books, CD's, DVD's & Videos. I am working with Children heavily traumatized by the on-going 19 years war in Northern Uganda. You may also visit our website at www.aymu.org to learn more about this conflict.
Country Director/Peace Ambassador
Africa Youth Ministries, Uganda
P.O. Box 20029,
E: email@example.com or Albert@aymu.org
One of the AYMU Projects: EDUCATION AS TOOL FOR PEACE BUILDING
Too scared to sleep, too young to fight
Stephanie Nolen reports on Uganda's forgotten civil war
Monday, April 25, 2005 Updated at 8:20 AM EST
Globe and Mail Update
Ariaga, Uganda — Jimmy Ocen leaves home at dusk, when the crickets are starting to shriek in the mango trees. He walks, scuffing his third-hand sneakers past low houses and small fields of spinach and corn, two kilometres into town. His twin sister, their two little brothers and four small cousins have to be chided to keep up.
Jimmy, 12, sometimes stops to look around at the neighbours' yards or to scratch the scabs on his knees. But he doesn't linger – the equatorial night comes quickly and he must arrive at the shelter by dark. Jimmy hasn't slept at home with his parents since he was seven years old. Every night for five years, he has walked to town and found a place to sleep in nearby Gulu: a church courtyard, a bank doorway, the floor under a bed in a hospital ward. This is the land where the worst bedtime fears come true. There really are bad guys, and they really do come to take children away. An estimated 20,000 children have been abducted at gunpoint in northern Uganda, most in the middle of the night.
The children are taken away to fight in the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, which is holding the entire civilian population hostage with fear and savagery. Two million people live in the region's wretched refugee camps because they are afraid to stay home, and every night Jimmy and thousands of other children leave their homes to sleep somewhere safer. Jimmy knows it is strange, and he would rather stay home. But he also knows he can't stay.
"In the daytime, the rebels are afraid to come – but they come in the dark," he says. Just last week, Jimmy's cousin Justin Ojara, also 12, stayed home for the first time in five years: He had a bad case of diarrhea and was too weak to make the walk. As if they knew there was a child for the taking, the rebels smashed in the door that night and stole what they could, taking Justin and the extended family's three men to carry their loot. The men were released a few days later, but the boy was not, likely taken to what people here call "the bush."
That term currently encompasses all of the north but a handful of swollen towns. The displacement and death from the conflict in northern Uganda equals or exceeds what is going on in Sudan's infamous Darfur region, but this conflict has never attracted a single resolution from the United Nations Security Council.
Instead, President Yoweri Museveni calls it an internal matter that he will have sorted out imminently. Until recently, the donors who provide more than half the government's budget have taken him at his word. The war pits the President's considerable army against the LRA. The conflict's roots stem from the mid-1980s, when Mr. Museveni, a southerner who headed a rebel movement of his own, seized power. Isolated and cut out of power, the north mounted a rebellion and Joseph Kony, a charismatic young man who said the Holy Spirit spoke to him, emerged as its leader.
But when support for the rebellion died out among the local Acholi, Mr. Kony turned his sights on his own people. Unable to draw recruits, he began to abduct children to carry his guns. For the past 18 years, he has carried out an insurgency that has shattered all semblance of normal life in the north.
Only in recent months have there been the first tentative steps toward negotiation, but there is still no truce. The rebels seized people right on the edge of town last week, and hacked off the lips and ears of a few others to remind everyone they are still out there. And so a few children who had hoped to risk the nights at home instead resumed their nightly commute.
Jimmy Ocen and his siblings sleep in a shelter, a big warehouse subdivided for boys and girls. The building was erected by the African Medical and Research Foundation, one of several international aid agencies working here, to give the children some supervision. When they sleep out in the churchyards and the schools, there are frequent reports of abuse. But at the same time, these agencies worry that they are formalizing a pattern that is causing the disintegration of Acholi society. When the conflict is at its worst, an estimated 40,000 children sleep away from home.
The worst-affected children are, of course, those taken by the rebels and used for sex or battle. But these days no child here escapes the impact of the war. They are either crammed into camps, unable to go to school or play, or else they commute, walking four or five kilometres to school, coming home and then leaving again for the night shelters – spending 20 hours a day or more away from home. "It breaks the link with the parents, who have very little time with them," said Nichson Kilama, co-ordinator of a Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) shelter where 4,000 kids sleep each night in giant tents.
"They are losing the guidance their parents should give them. In our culture, you gather at the fireplace and you tell stories of things from a long time ago, a problem that happened and how you solved it." Mr. Kilama watches a sturdy five-year-old come out of the dark and in the shelter gate carrying his wool blanket on his head. "What if this war goes on for five more years?" he asks. "What link will that child have to his parents?"
The parents are also frustrated. "It is very strange and painful to be separated from your children," said Jacob Opira, a 43-year-old peasant farmer who is Jimmy's foster father. "You don't know what problems they will face while they are gone from you. And then they come home with infections, coughs and scabies they catch in the shelter, but we have no money to buy medicine to treat them." The children begin to imagine themselves old beyond their years, and feel they no longer need their parents.
"It's a huge problem: When a child is separated from a parent, there is a loss of guidance, and when these children go they may start misbehaving, doing things they would not do outside the supervision of parents," Mr. Opira said. Nevertheless, he intends to keep sending his children away while the war continues. "The problems a child will face when they are abducted are much worse than what they will face sleeping away. Yes, you see your child getting spoiled. But with the rebels, they could be killed," he said.
September 1, 2005
To: President of Russian Federation
Mr. Vladimir Putin
Making Children a Priority in Russia
Dear Mr. Vladimir Putin!
On the anniversary of the unprecedented Beslan tragedy, which carried away the lives of 186 children, I count it as my moral and civil duty to address you with an appeal: Making Children a Priority in Russia. It is necessary for practically all aspects of the nation’s development and transformation into a developed country. But, primarily, it is necessary for the prevention of similar tragedies in the future, for the strengthening and development of family, for the formation in future generation of a culture that is immune from terrorism about which you spoke on September 13, 2004, for overcoming the political apathy of our youth, for making the children’s sphere a budgetary priority thereby ensuring a new quality basic, human, resource, that can only grow from our children. You see, from this resource, the prosperity and socio-economic development of the country depends first of all.Making children a priority is the most effective way of stating Russia’s civil society and social state, reinforcing positive image of Russia and establishing its new peaceful role in the world.
The Beslan tragedy was not accidental. It became possible as one of many consequences of the plight of children in our country and the unworthy relationship of the state to our youngest citizens. I shall remind you of only some, the most shocking, facts from the children’s sphere which includes their families, educational establishments, public health services, rest, sport and leisure and together with their parents, grandparents, teachers, doctors and other caregivers, covers up to 70 % of the country’s population. In Russia 45 % of families with children have incomes below the living wage (Arguments and Facts, 49, 2003: all references are from this source below).That means that almost half of the children, about 20 million, live in poverty, eat poorly, are frequently sick, attend inferior schools and have very little chance of attending a university. This trend, unfortunately, does not improve and is aggravated, by the new data confirming that 60 % of the country’s population is poor (AaF, 33, 2005).
Other facts: In 2003 fires at two schools resulted in the burning deaths of about 50 children, and in a university’s hostel about 40 younger students. In 2004, in Beslan, 186 children were killed in a terrorist act.In 2005, five children were burned in Krasnoyarsk. More facts: In answer to a question, what you would like to see for your child, 45 % of the parents were at a loss to answer (AaF, 46, 2003). That means, that almost half of parents do not think about their children, the children’s destiny and their responsibility for them. It means, not only the state, but also society, is appreciably indifferent to children. The youth have no incentive to have children therefore the death-rate in the country steadily exceeds the birth rate, which means the slow extinction of the nation.
More facts: "In Russia up to 2000 children perish annually at the hands of their own moms and dads." (AaF, 29, 2005). "Out of hopelessness or alcoholism thousands of Russian children are either killed or abandoned by their mothers annually. In our children’s homes about 40 thousand children suffer from a terror of the adults.Why do we not mourn as bitterly as the victims of Beslan, Russian children becoming invalids from the cruelty of their own parents, from chronic underfeeding, from childhoodtuberculosis mowing down young life in the crude and cold barracks which have remained with us from Stalin’s times?" (AaF, 31, 2005). "Each year approximately 15 thousand children leave the children’s homes.Out of these, 5 thousand end up in prison during the first year. Five thousand enter the ranks of the homeless and 1.5 thousand finish life by suicide" (AaF, 30, 2005). "In the Yaroslavl correctional house - boarding school for mentally retarded are 30 children - orphans. They begin to smoke at three years, to drink – at four, and they live by the laws of the jungle." (AaF, 33, 2005). In another children’s home "teenagers are held naked in the punishment room for one month" (AaF, 24, 2005).
Your councillor, Anatoly Pristavkin, testifies: "Today on streets are thrown out, by some accounts, 4-5 million children from 10 to 15 years old. This means in five years we will have the same number of criminals. It is a criminal nursery! The present situation is catastrophic.It’s not that the children are worse, it is society that has lowered the standard of meanness" (AaF, 20, 2005). In response to Pristavkin’s article there is this figure: "each year the number of children who have stayed without care of their parents is increased by 110 thousand" (AaF, 27, 2005). I summarized only some facts and only from one edition. Actually, similar examples are much worse. Through them appears the shape of an antihuman system, hostile to childhood, cherished (fostered) by a communistic regime and remaining with us even now...................................................
Leo M. Semashko
State Councillor of St. Petersburg, Ph.D., Professor, Director, Public Institute of Strategic Sphere (Tetrasociological) Studies; Website Director www.peacefromharmony.spb.ru,IFLAC Delegate in Russia; Member of Advisory Board, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies; Member of the International Sociological Association