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War Child Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by tinashe, Canada Dec 12, 2005
Peace & Conflict , War Children   Opinions
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War Child In the chaos of political, social and economic conflict- children are often left with no rights and many times, silenced. Children around the world are being used in warfare as part of suicide bombings, messengers, mine detectors, spies and so on. Child soldiers have been, and in some cases, are still being used in Sierra Leone, Angola, Mozambique, Congo, Uganda, Liberia, Rwanda and Sudan. An investigation conducted by the Human Rights Watch found that in every region, children are subject to unconscious abuse and discrimination. The irony of this statement is that the perpetrators of these crimes are often the ones who are supposed to be their caregivers and protectors. Being a child is not forever; and yet, children in many parts of the world are being deprived of their rights to this fundamental freedom. The international community and individual governments need to take action to preserve and protect our innocent children in all of this chaos by amending and proposing more accurate and specific resolutions, in addition to enforcing these international standards at any cost.

In the midst of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war, there was a forcible recruitment of child soldiers. Unlike adults, children obey any order no matter how brutal. They do not tend to negotiate with enemies, take bribes or even form alliances with each other against their master. Children are much more manageable and controllable because they do not demand to get paid for any services; instead, they want to have someone to look up to, or someone to show them love. Most child warriors actually refuse to go home out of the fear of being killed and ostracized because of labels and stigmatizations like; ‘the boy who chopped off my arms’, or ‘the boy who killed my family’.

Another important dimension to realize is that in many cases, these children have already spent at least half of their lives as child soldiers: this type of life and family is all they have become socialized and accustomed to - the rebel leaders become their father figures, and their gang peers become their siblings. These young recruits may have had larger dreams for their future when they were younger, but were forced to abandon their desired future for this alternative.

This story of recruiting is mostly for the male children of Sierra Leone; for the female children however, it is a little different. A few of the female children become combatants, while the majority of them are recruited to perform more traditional roles as cooks, porters and sex slaves. Girls abducted in this brutal mayhem are raped and abused: they are vulnerable to both acquiring, and transmitting numerous venereal or sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.

After a young girl, having gone through all of this, attempts to return to her village, she will face rejection from her family. This is so because she is no longer a virgin, and the family rational is; who would want to marry her? These young girls usually end up prostituting themselves for both survival; and because, that is all they know. The problem of rejection is one which both the male and female children in Sierra Leone share. There is a traditional cleansing ritual that war children can go through to redeem themselves of their crimes. An animal sacrifice is used in this symbolic ritual; however, because of the high costs, it is rarely performed.
“I’ve seen people get their hands cut off, a ten-year-old girl raped and then die, and so many men and women burned alive... So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn’t dare cry out loud.”- A fourteen-year-old girl, abducted in January 1999 by the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel group in Sierra Leone.

Instead of the government of Sierra Leone discouraging these horrendous operations, they also participate in the recruiting of little boys and girls as combatants. The government actually justified the use of these innocent children as some sort of social-welfare program. The Ministry of Defense, Sam Hinga Norman passed a statement: “Alot of these kids witnessed the slaughter of their parents and were so traumatized that they were living like beasts in the bush......we had to catch them and bring them back into the fold as human beings.” The way which the government dresses these child “soldiers” makes them look more like little boys dressed for Halloween. These children are made to believe that this attire will shield them from bullets. The government insights and stirs up hate in these young children with mottos such as avenge and revenge the rebels who killed your loved ones. These children, unlike the rebels, do not have as much of a difficult time going back to their villages, as they are supposedly combating for a better cause and motive.

In this global village, we are faced with a double edged sword situation when dealing with child soldiers. On one hand, we may want to open our borders to these once innocent children; but at the same time, they are criminals. When dealing with this matter, one has to bring to light all possibilities and realities. Just because we find one to be a child, it does not acquit them from the atrocities they committed; whether or not they were forced into violence at the beginning, for the most part, as we have seen, it becomes a nature that they know.

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