“Compelled to become instruments of war, to kill and be killed, child soldiers are forced to give violent expression to the hatred of adults.”
-Olara Otunnu, Special Representative for children in armed conflict
Grace Achara, one of the survivors who was abducted and used as a child soldier in Uganda by Lord’s Resistance Army came forward to share her painful experience. Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group operating in parts of Africa including Uganda, South Sudan and the Central Republic of Africa and is known for causing grave human rights violations involving abduction and use of children as soldiers and sex slaves, also for carrying out violent attacks in the state. Grace was subjected to various atrocities during her time in the army, she was raped, made her first kill when she was just 16 and was given the job of executing a man who had attempted to flee. “It only took a minute”, she recalls. But now she is no longer a captive or serving in a profession that she was pushed into, however, that wouldn’t imply she is free in a true sense. Problems of poverty and stigmatization have made her condition no better as community’s unsupportive stance and other failures have blocked her reintegration into the society as for all other child victims who have escaped the horrors of war but continue to bear the brunt of society.
The most important question that is raised in this context is why to recruit a child when the same objectives can be fulfilled by an adult and that too more strategically and effectively. In response to that, different reasons come into play that makes conditions more favourable for the recruiters. A child lacks the level of rationality and resistance as compared to an adult, making it easy for the recruiters to intimidate and manipulate them. Unlike an adult, they can be paid less as no such demands are made by them in the first place. At times, voluntary participation by children is also seen as a reason for these children into joining rebel groups which function along issues of social justice and cultural identity. The outbreak of war causing disruption of education, work and health facilities might exacerbate the crisis resulting in extreme levels of unemployment and poverty, making children take up arms to respond in such situations. Voluntary participation in armed groups is also witnessed in situations where a child has lost one's family in the war and is most vulnerable at this time, they are easily manipulated into joining forces to avenge the loss.
Forced political indoctrination is one way of instilling violent ideas of gaining justice and involving more in warfare. As was a common practice to indigenous people of Peru joining guerrilla bands who underwent a long period of political indoctrination. Other ways of inducing violent ideas were by subjecting children to physical abuse like a practice adopted by rebel groups in Cambodia and Mozambique. These happenings weren’t something that confined to the past as these children are continued to be made witnesses to the horror of violent attacks and bloodshed. All the more they are turned into active participants and take part in executions preparing them to develop immunity against any human emotion of care, compassion and love. So, in a short span of imparting rigorous training to the young, the most desired outcome by the rebel group is to easily and effectively produce more and more war machines that can be deployed in wars to come.
Human Rights Watch research on Taliban child recruitment in Afghanistan reveals the extent to which children were trained and deployed by the Taliban for its terror operations in Afghanistan. This involved producing and planting improvised explosive devices. By attracting poor families, Taliban covered their basic expenses from food to clothing for these children. United Nations High Commission on refugees highlights in one of its observations with respect to the problem of child soldiers in conflict zones like Syria. It suggested that in desperate economic needs resulting from conflicts or due to reasons like cultural obligation these children serve instrumental in completing objectives of conflict waged by adults.
There are instances when children or even 10 years and below were recruited in territorial occupation by the terror outfits. Despite various provisions in place to prohibit the use of children in armed conflicts through means of international humanitarian laws and human rights conventions, the condition on the ground is deplorable. The optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,1989 clearly directs to not recruit anyone below the age of 18 years or take part in hostilities. In fact, the member states are obligated to take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment, but, on the ground, the principles, the obligations, the laws, all of it operates differently. Some ratified states continue to reflect ignorance, indifferent attitude towards such concerns as a result of which non-state actors continue to use children in their violent schemes and operations.
In highlighting the gravity of the situation, media has effectively conveyed what it is like for a child to be forcibly recruited and live with the pain throughout life. There are many movies produced every year worldwide however, only a few manage to convey real issues so artistically using artificial characters and settings. War Witch released in 2012 and directed by Kim Nguyen is one such movie that portrays the horrific circumstances that a young girl faces in being pushed into becoming a child soldier. Through protagonist Komona’s personal experience the movie gives it’s viewers the insight into the gruesome conditions to which innocent children are put in a process of gradually turning them into an unaffected, insensitive, reckless killer machines. Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of no Nation shows another gripping story that revolves around the making of child soldiers. Edward Zwick’s academy award nominated movie ‘Blood Diamond’ shows how these wars are financed but more importantly how children were increasingly recruited and coerced into serving in armed conflicts.
The physical, sexual and psychological abuse in conflict remains shockingly prevalent. A child undergoes an incomprehensible extent of trauma due to witnessing violence at such a young age. Human bombs are now rampantly put into use in contemporary wars. Armed groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Boko Haram, continue to use children on a large scale across borders. Boko Haram has so far used most suicide bombers, of the 434 bombers deployed between 2011-2017, 244 have been identified as female.
Many girls and boys lose their lives on the field in fighting wars that they do not even fully comprehend. The Child Soldiers World Index, developed by the human rights group, Child Soldiers International, shows that children have been used in war at least 18 countries since 2016. Be it voluntary or involuntary, it becomes necessarily incumbent upon any state to take requisite steps to eliminate the vulnerability born out of conflicts and wars surrounding a child. It is essential to take precautionary steps to prevent such illegal recruitment and put proper monitoring mechanism in place but at the same time, it is also necessary to draft adequate policies to rehabilitate the child victims who have escaped the torture and violence ensuing during a conflict. The increasing number of child soldiers indicate how it is necessary to eliminate those hidden spaces that help such activities to grow and spread. Disseminating more information among the masses, collective action on part of the state and international bodies, stringent controls, cooperation between states in implementing policies will certainly help in decreasing the numbers of children recruited as soldiers and would also pave way for securing a better future for the children.
Ellison, Marc. 14 Jan 2016. Al Jazeera. Tales from Uganda’s female former child soldiers. Retrieved from, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/11/tales-uganda-female-child-soldiers-151130115418168.html
Human Rights Watch.(17February2016).Afghanistan: Taliban Child soldier recruitment surges. Retrieved from, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/17/afghanistan-taliban-child-soldier-recruitment-surges
UNICEF. Children as soldiers. Retrieved from, https://www.unicef.org/sowc96/2csoldrs.htm
R.S.. 23rd October 2017. The Economist. Why Boko Haram uses female suicide bombers. Retrieved from, https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2017/10/23/why-boko-haram-uses-female-suicide-bombers
Office of the Special Representative of the Security General for children and armed conflict. 27 June 2018. Annual Report: Children faced with unspeakable violence in number as grave violations increased in 2017. Retrieved from, https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/children-faced-with-unspeakable-violence-in-conflict-as-number-of-grave-violations-increased-in-2017/
McCarthy,Joe ,Curtiss, Katharine. 12 February 2016. Global citizen. Films that explore what it is like to be a child soldier. Retrieved from, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/child-soldiers-in-films/
Image Credit: Al Jazeera
Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
Get all our posts, blogs and video content via e-mail.