Child Soldiers
By Tayyaba Anwar

July 16, 2009

"They give you a gun and you have to kill the best friend you have. They do it to see if they can trust you. If you don't kill him, your friend will be ordered to kill you. I had to do it, otherwise I would have been killed." Words of a 17-year-old boy, who was forced to joined a paramilitary group at the age of 7.

Imagine having been abducted from your family and your home as a child, and then forced to perform acts of barbarism. Imagine having to combat against someone without even knowing the reason. Imagine having to hold a gun at the age which demands toys and books. Imagine having to kill those you love, on the condition of your own life. Brutal, isn’t it? That is exactly what is happening in Africa, Uganda, Afghanistan, Congo, Burma and so many other countries around the world. The children are recruited and then forced to join governmental forces, rebel groups or paramilitary militias. They are all at war. Naturally, they want to save their lives and cruelly, they use children as their shield.

A military commander claimed that children made excellent soldiers. Reason being? Are they stronger, braver and much more resolute than the adult soldiers? Or maybe they are simply too vulnerable and frightened to resist or challenge the terrifying demands of the war. They are expected to serve as soldiers, human mine detectors, sex slaves, spies, lookouts or they participate in suicide missions. They are forced to commit terrible atrocities, and are beaten or killed if they try to escape. They are subjected to punishment rituals, hard labor and cruel training systems. Many of the children are given drugs to agitate them and to make it easier to break down their psychological barriers to fighting and killing.

Many children claim of having been forced to witness or commit carnages, including rape and murder. Others speak of seeing friends and family being killed. Every year, more than 300,000 children are involved in such appalling conflicts. They youngest amongst them are just mere six year olds. Most of them are abducted or they have lost their families in war. They are the easiest preys for such recruitments because in simple words: they are helpless. There are also some children who join armed forces more or less voluntarily. They want to take revenge for members of their family who were killed by other military groups. And at times, they join believing they will be provided with food, shelter and protection from these soldiers but what they get is more or less agony.
"They beat all the people there, old and young, they killed them all, nearly 10 people... like dogs they killed them… I didn't kill anyone, but I saw them killing... the children who were with them killed too... they made us drink the blood of people, we took blood from the dead into a bowl and they made us drink... then when they killed the people they made us eat their liver, their heart, which they took out and sliced and fried... And they made us little ones eat.”

A young Peruvian girl testifies, who had clearly witness the worst of the war. She also confessed that the girls, who were captured, were used as sex slaves. They were often assigned to different adult soldiers as their “wives”. Those girls, if they survived the war, were later banished from the community because most of the time they had been raped during their stay in the army and they bring nothing but shame to their families.
The issue of child soldiers is quite an invisible one. The reason being, the children spend their time in remote conflict zones away from both public views. They simply vanish and often never return from the battlefield because they are killed or, having been injured, are abandoned. Individually they all grow older and many of them are conflicted with severe physiological trauma as a consequence of the war. The very fact that the soldier survives means the child disappears.
There has to be something done to stop the issue of Child soldiers for good. UNICEF claims to having been trying to rise the legal age of enrollment into the army from fifteen to eighteen, but no final decision is yet reached. To really put the issue on a halt, International law should recognize 18 years as the minimum age for enrollment into any kind of armed forces. The children currently being used should be immediately demobilized and the governments must all make a joint rule to regulate the flow of automatic weapons and other small arms which are light and simple enough for children to use, not only for the children but also for the future and peace of the world.


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