What is a child soldier?
Imagine that your parents have been killed, and your home, destroyed...The only way that you can get food and shelter is by joining forces with the very people who have just murdered your family...
While that fear probably doesn't cross your mind on a daily basis, for many children around the world, becoming a soldier is the only option that they have.
A child soldier is:
- Anyone under the age of eighteen who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity.
- Youth mostly between the ages of 14 and 18, but it has been shown that some are much younger.
- Boys and girls who fight in adult wars, missing out on the safe childhood that many of us take for granted.
According to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soliders:
“Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including participation in combat, laying mines and explosives; scouting, spying, acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training, drill or other preparations; logistics and support functions, portering, cooking and domestic labor; and sexual slavery or other recruitment for sexual purposes.”
- Today, there may be as many as 300,000 child soldiers in more than fifty conflicts around the world. Oftentimes these children are forced to take drugs and wield dangerous weapons including AK-47s.
- Children that become child soldiers are often abducted from poor villages and forced to join in the violence.
- Girls who are taken into conflicts may not be forced into combat, but are frequently raped, beaten, and abused. Many times these girls are forced to marry the soldiers who have raped them and are socially stigmatized if they are able to return to their home villages.
- If a child soldier is lucky enough to escape or be rescued, they are sadly often rejected by their former communities and left scarred and alienated. These former child soldiers have been described as a “ticking time bomb,” by CEO Tom Miller because of their traumatizing experiences, the abuses they face, and societal rejection.
- A 2008 report by Ban Ki Moon, Un Secretary General, warned that children in refugee camps are at particular risk of abduction, as well as rape and other forms of mental and physical abuse. It added that not enough is being done to give former child soldiers hope for the future.
One former child soldier, Djibril Karim, recounted how in the civil war in Sierra Leone: "Some of the kids were so young they couldn't even hold the gun. They had to drag it on the ground."
“Diamonds are found in the mud. So you should love the diamond and the mud equally.” -a Moken proverb
What is the cost of a diamond? a laptop? a cellphone? $50? $100? $500? a human life? Have any of you seen the movie Blood Diamond? If so, you probably know that some companies in the diamond industry have sold products referred to as "conflict goods," or, in other words, goods sold to finance ongoing wars, such as those in the DRC, Sudan, etc.
These conflicts are oftentimes ones that have been found to use child soldiers; and when the materials (such as minerals often found in Africa) for the "conflict goods" are purchased, the profits are usually directed to the warlords.
However, there are other conflict goods besides diamonds, including many electronic products. Nevertheless, because oftentimes the origin of the materials going into these products is hard to locate, many companies do not realize that they are in fact buying materials from conflict leaders.
Where does it happen??
Thousands of children have been a part of fighting forces in countries all around the world including: Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Nepal, Colombia, the Philippines, and Sudan
What is Plan doing?
Plan USA's programs on child trafficking, including child labor, focus on:
- increasing community awareness of the dangers of trafficking
- rescuing victims
- ensuring rehabilitation and healthcare
- providing education and life skill training
These projects are integrated with our other program interventions in education, health, water and sanitation, livelihood, and strengthening of household security.
We also play an important role at the national level, advocating on issues such as birth registration, the education of girls, child trafficking, and child rights in general.
In November of 2008, Plan also launched a campaign for a major project in northern Uganda geared towards supporting and rehabilitating former child soldiers left traumatized by their experiences.
During the conflict in Uganda, more than 20,000 children are estimated to have been taken from their families. Many of these children are now sadly faced with psychological trauma post-conflict.
Plan works in communities, such as those in northern Uganda, using various rehabilitation practices including: community strengthening, education, advocating for peacekeeping, and implementing other gender and age based programs. As traumatic events don’t affect all children the same way, Plan makes a strong effort to diversify the programs in place and conduct continuous research regarding the effectiveness of the campaigns.
What our government is doing:
In July 2008, both the Senate and the House of Representatives unanimously passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. This legislation could affect military assistance to Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda (U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers Steering Committee).
What you can do!
Learn More: Read this article about Betty Ejang's experience as a child solider in Uganda.
Another article by the New York Times discusses the use of child soldiers in Somalia.
Watch: Blood Diamond -- This film looks into the "blood diamonds," or diamonds mined in conflict zones, which are sold to finance the conflicts to the profit of diamond companies across the world. Blood Diamond is set during the Civil War in Sierra Leone in 1996-1999 and portrays the conflicts child soldiers are faced with. However, take note that this film in rated 'R' and may be disturbing to watch.
Soldier Child -- a documentary which highlights and recounts the stories of former child soldiers of the Northern Ugandan Lords Resistance Army.
Read: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. This is a true story of a child soldier in the Sierra Leone civil war.
Donate: Make a contribution to support child-centered programs where needed most around the world.
Join: Learn more about YUGA and how to create your own YUGA group! YUGA is a great way to meet new people and talk with others about issues affecting the world today. You and your friends are the future, and by being aware of world matters, you will help to make a better future. Looking forward to talking to all of you!