The term "Child Soldier" is applied to an image of gun-toting adolescent boys but the reality is quite different. The call for justice to children who are coerced in anyway to join a militia or militaristic regime, is now evocating at the highest international levels with Kofi Annan stating "The question of children and armed conflict is an integral part of the UN's core responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security".
A staggering 300,000 (estimated figure) children working across the globe forcibly enslaved in a military or other duties depicted by the children's captors is starting to show the increased liking for using children as objects in the war for land and other resources. Even where the legal minimum age is set at 18, the law is not necessarily a safeguard and this is shown clearly in countries such as Uganda, Afghanistan, Burundi and Somalia where obligatory laws are totally overlooked.
How are Children recruited? Most armed opposition groups engage in conflict with children as their main source of fighting strength, this violently digressive act ensuing from global legalities on the issue, is clear from the 5,000 children dead last year, according to a UN estimate. The divergence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) leads observers to describe the situation as Africa's "world war" and with 4 million lives already lost they may not be wrong to do so.
This fact would also suggest the intimate reasons why so many children get involved with the violence, with other motives such as pursuit of national liberation from conflict, social expandatures and religious expression often cited as why children are too often lead with the aspiration to become a "fighter" in the issues surrounding the actions of brutality. The WITNESS estimate of 20,000 children, under the age of 18, having been recruited into government and non-state armed groups, just in the DRC, highlights the growth of conscripting these "volunteers".
This high figure of individuals includes the non-active participants which number around 5,000 and the remaining, around 14,000. Most of the children involved are in the 15-18 year old category with the rest mainly being under the age of 13. It would be irresponsible of us though to imagine just males being the subject of this influence, in fact around 15-40% of child soldiers are female, depending on the region and intensity of conflict.
Contemporary armed conflicts have increased the risks for children because of proliferation of inexpensive light weapons, such as the Russian-made AK-47 or the American M-16 assault rifles, which are easy for children to carry and use. The approximation of 638 million weapons means that they are available on markets across the globe, so putting an end to trade in arms between complimentary and rival factions is the key to help end child recruitment. Effects on the Victims The very thought of child soldiers gives us only a marginal piece of any possible imagination of what the children are subject to.
They are often exposed to mental, physical and sexual abuse. Forced to commit horrendous crimes they are often scarred with the brutal "initiation" programmes and spiritual ideology. However, if the controlled are not the perpetrators of the crime they are forcibly prepared to witness them. Many child soldiers are given drugs, alcohol and other stimulants/depressants to provide an invokement of emotions ranging from agitation to confusion, all of which assist in the process of destabilisation of all psychological development in the adolescent's mind.
Rumours are rife of terrible atrocities being induced on children who have wanted to escape or not volunteered. Roshenara, a 14-year old girl abducted from her native Sri Lanka by the Revolutionary Armed Front said, "I've seen so many things in my life that other wouldn't see in five lifetimes. I've seen women and girls younger than me being raped and being burned alive at a stake. The smell, the smell. That's what gets to me. It makes me want to cry but I can't. It's too dangerous to do so. I have to cry to myself. " Life on the front lines of conflict often exposes their heightened inexperience in conflict.
Fighting in contact with more developed groups exposes them to vulnerabilities of injury and even death. However, assistance is being called for with social reintegration, demobilisation and rehabilitation movements on the increase and more children being pulled from their extreme poverty as a child soldier. Legislation such as the Optional Protocol and the African Charter are more often than not, neglected. The case of the DRC in the periods between the late 1800's to 1960's was a mixed period of rapid government and colonialism. Often, leaders were instigated at the request of other countries from the north such as the UK and the US.
This "chop and change" approach left the emotions of the DRC's people all over the place, resulting in the violence today The Solution? Most spectators are in unanimous agreement that a solution to the problem is unattainable because children are just "too appropriate" for the requirements. They make for uncostly, obedient fighters who are easy to mould into the person in perspectives, desires. It is unchallenging for an aspiring leader to grasp individual youth mainly because of their inexperience as moral fighters, and standing up for what they believe in.
An argument used by the children's captors is, that the fact in some regions, especially south-western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa there are shortages of over-18's for conflict, meaning they are forced to put the children into combat. Fact after fact shows that the most obvious reason why armed groups or militias take children is because they use loopholes and are often left unchallenged. The existing regulations outlawing the practise are simply too moderate when it comes to ordering warrants for arrest or even investigating reported cases.
But progress can be noted, as it was only a few decades ago when governments proudly relished and displayed the idea of child soldiers, now that same "enthusiasm" can't be seen. Furthermore, in March 2006 Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was arrested by the International Criminal Court for his alleged involvement in the commission of war crimes, namely enlisting and conscripting children into combat. The use and recruitment of child soldiers is a violation of international human rights as classified by the Rome Statute Article 8 (2). Also recently, there has been a call to the UN to help develop a system where child recruitment is rarely used.
This idea in theory involves "naming and shaming" the perpetrators of the crimes committed, in order to help discourage other people carrying this act on. Africa - Background on the Issue - Africa's continental recruitment of child soldiers is arguably the worst. However, because of this, Africa has seen an increasing effort from volunteers to help develop the continent into a stable democracy, with rehabilitation centres being set up to provide a safeguard for escaped soldier children or for those who are seeking peace after being removed from their homes.
As mentioned before, the Optional Protocol, an obligatory procedure brought into effect as of 25 May 2000 sets the records straight between the rogues and the authorities. It states the compulsory age of which people are allowed to fight, prohibits armed groups who are acting against the laws and requests the states in which the groups operate to account for at least some responsibility and to make sure effort is taken to stop them.
Whether these groups or governments take this in or not is a different matter, but at least the minimum requirements are now set and if they disobey then they will be punished. A local man from a town called Banyan in South Eastern DRC said this in response to "Do you think these laws will change anything? " - "Considerable changes can't be made in a short time when the international bodies debate on legal age rather than on the humanitarian crisis that these children have to face everyday of their childhood. And this example of local reaction to recently introduced laws shows how high the opposition is in this desolate part of the world.
The social aspect of a country is vital and a successful history of when people who have got together and combined their forces and eliminated the sources of violence that are nourished by the availability of light weapons, ideology, and tolerance of domestic violence have succeeded in their aims and show us their model as we ought to act upon.