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Childhood is seen by some as a predominately a western social concept and an idea that has been questioned for a long time, (Norozi, and Moen, 2016) what is normal to one society may not be normal to other geographical areas or cultural backgrounds, however it has been deemed unlawful for the recruitment of persons under the age of 15 to enter into acts of war or aggression.
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The earliest references in ancient philosophy and literature of child soldiers whereby minors are involved in conflict, date back to the early middle ages. The Roman Spartans would start training boys at 7 and from then on, were classed as soldiers. In Jewish tradition boys of 13 go through Bar Mitzva and are classed as an adult therefore accountable for their own actions. (Eigen, 2009)
Only recently the problem with child soldiers started to be addressed. The first international standard set the “minimum age” at 15 for “Direct Participation” in armed conflict and is accredited to the 1949 Geneva Conventions Act and prohibited anyone under the age of 15, additional protocols were implemented “Conventions of The Rights of a Child” (1977. Art. 77.2) and is considered a war crime in allowing under the age of 15 to participate, only Japan and Italy have a higher consent age of 18; However approximately 300,000 children are believed to be involved in active combat in around 43 countries in the present
Thousands of children some as young as 8 serve in armed forces and militant opposition groups. The range of active involvement varies, and some could be front line soldiers or acting as spies. Girls are used for sex and passed around the men in camp or used as slaves looking after the men, a forced modern-day slavery (Bleasdale, 2013). Many of these children are “abducted or recruited, whist others join, believing that these groups are their best chance of survival.” (Otunnu, 2018) states that these children are “compelled to become instruments of war, to kill or be killed” he believes that they are brainwashed into being subservient by militant groups and is an ever perpetuation cycle where victim turns aggressor and does to others, what was once done to them.
Military both state and none state, seek children out despite been under developed both physically and mentally in comparison to adults. One rationale in thinking is that children are often fearless, agile and hardier than their adult counterparts, (Beber, 2013). (Dallaire, 2011) suggests, due to over population, the use of children has become cheap and accessible. It is also argued that “children are more obedient and malleable than adults and are easier to control”. (Baber, etal 1997).
While some children are forced into military organizations, some join of their own free will. In a study conducted by (Brett and Specht, 2004) they found complex factors that may have impacted on a child’s decision, such as poverty, lack of education and employment opportunities. Also, many children had grown up with conflict so normalized it. Some children had seen family killed and wanted to exact revenge and for some they just wanted to belong somewhere as they had no family, thus according to (Mcleod 2009) they were looking for the caregiver to replace what they had lost in order to feel secure and have the ability to cope with what they have done or what they than those before them as they have been desensitized to the atrocities that have been committed (CBBC, 2018).
One of the ways an organization will get a child to remain with them is by feeding them a mix of drugs to make them more willing and docile to carry out the attacks. The most common drug to be given is called “Brown Brown” a mix of gun powder and cocaine. A case worker working with child soldiers told reporters that they gave children a cocktail of drugs do they would be braver and emotionally de sensitized when they must jump over the dead bodies of their friends (African news 1999).
The Revolutionary United Front is now a political party, however 10 to 15 years ago they gained worldwide notoriety engaging in many horrific acts of aggression in a civil war that lasted over a decade. They used children to overthrow the government and attacked random civilians in the vilest ways. Murder, rape and amputations were rife, and this militant group has left lasting effects in Sierra Leone and the world for many years to come. A 10-year-old girl recanted that she had been raped and had to watch her 20-year-old sister die from having her foot and both hands amputated, this was common within the RUF and used as a deterrent and punishment to force compliance. (HRW 2000) (Global Security).
One of the most atrocious stories was told by an unnamed boy referred to as M.G, from Sierra Leone. He was 10 years old when he was captured on his way to school by the RUF. The rebels took 10 other people from his village and forced M.G to pull the trigger of an assault rifle on children and neighbors otherwise he would be killed. He fired watching them all fall and die. M.G claims he cannot remember how many people he killed over the years but visits them in his nightmares where he “sees the dead all around me” M.G is now 31 and is telling his story so that those who are still being affected know that there is a shining light of hope if they look for it.
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The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) are an armed group of militants that still use child soldiers to commit atrocities, their leader is Joseph Kony and believes he is inhabited by a divine spirit. He has initiated attacks on schools and hospitals in his reign of terror and the militant group are known for their notorious and vile conduct towards children, involving sex trafficking and forcing children to exact violence on others. Although the LRA’s hold over East Africa is diminishing their use of children continues (CAAC, 2012)
Apart from the obvious danger of death, a third world country has many other issues associated with it, like poor living conditions, hunger, unsanitary water and more, this is intensified with war and conflict. Children must experience the psychological instability that goes with war therefore affecting them in a variety of ways. Anxiety, depression and P.T.S.D are commonplace in adult soldiers, so in these circumstances’ children will be affected worse. The physical assaults, sexual abuse and the atrocities the children partook in or witnessed. Also, diseases such as AIDS/HIV and others are common so if the soldier does not die from being shot, there is a distinct possibility that they could die from poor aftercare and risk of infection from a wound. Apart from having to deal with emotional torment whilst trying to integrate back in society, the child will have to rehabilitate themselves away from drugs what they have become dependent on. (NCBI 2006).
Groups like Amnesty International and the United Nations are helping to bring an end, the use of children within conflict. War will never change but hopefully the involvement of children within it will. The 12th of February marks the “Day against the use of child soldiers”, since the year 2000, “115,000 children have been released from armed conflict” throughout the world and since 2016 every national armed force must agree to not allow a child of under 18 to fight in wars (CBBC 2018) (CAAC 2017).
Since the amount of child soldiers is decreasing over time, the reintegration of adolescent war victims has become a huge problem. UNICEF have made concentrated efforts to council those in need, treat infected wounds and diseases and are also helping build on vocational skills for later in life. The organization War Child has branches spanning 9 countries and has already helped 260,000 children with issues that these children face (UNICEF 2018).
The United Nations has been doing leaflet drops out of helicopters telling soldiers to surrender their weapons and hand themselves in peacefully. This means of communication has helped hundreds of soldiers be fully integrated back into society. UNICEF are also attempting to reintegrate child soldiers who was put into prison for war crimes, some are now free and being educated in schools as they should have been before the violence. One of the lucky ones named Pierre, was rescued by UNICEF and put into one of their rehabilitation centers and is now hoping to become a doctor, saving lives, not taking them, he states “it is like I have been cleansed of my history and my new life is like a dream” (Pierre 2016) Unfortunately not all previous war victims are this lucky (The Guardian 2016).
There are many agencies around the world like War Child and Unicef, trying to make a difference. For some ex combatants there is not a lot of hope as they have been indoctrinated in a regime full of hate. However, for every one that is on a path to recovery then this must be enough to continue the efforts.
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