The Dirty Business of Child Trafficking: Child Soldiers
When you think of children, do pictures of playgrounds, soccer practice, a child's smile, or a Happy Meal come to mind? Or, do you think of guns, soldiers, killing, and death?
Guns, soldiers, killing, and death, you ask. Yes. That is what is being demanded from approximately 300,000 children under the age of 18 years who are forced or coerced into becoming child soldiers.
According to UNICEF, there are 30 conflicts in the world right now where child soldiers are used as armed "combatants, messengers, porters and cooks, and for forced sexual services." The Continent of Africa has the most child soldiers with Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda on the list. Children are both forced and recruited by governmental armies, militias, and anti-government rebels.
Recruited? Yes. While it is true that children are routinely kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers, some are not. War is a terrible thing, and children in the midst of it often have no food, no shelter, no family, and no emotional, physical, or financial support. Under those conditions, the promise of a bed, regular meals, and someone to care about them can sound pretty good. Couple those promises with emotional immaturity, or even the trauma associated with war, and you have children willingly picking up weapons and doing what they are told.
While there are several organizations bring attention to the use of children as soldiers, one organization has been working towards the release of these kids as well. That organization is UNICEF. You can find out more about the problem and the work they are doing:
The only way to stop the use of children as soldiers is to spread the word to create a voice for the children who have none, and then to use that voice to stop war. While this may seem like a pipe dream, I believe it is both necessary and worthwhile. How about you?
Two books written from personal experience are listed below. While I would not recommend these to young readers, they are eye-opening and terrifying at the same time. The descriptions are quoted from Amazon.
"In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he'd been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts."
"In the mid-1980s, Emmanuel Jal was a seven year old Sudanese boy living in a small village. But after his mother was killed and his father Simon rose to become a powerful commander in the Christian Sudanese Liberation Army, fighting for the freedom of Sudan. Soon, Jal was conscripted into that army, one of 10,000 child soldiers, and fought through two separate civil wars over nearly a decade.
Orphaned and adrift, Jal lived through horror: marching through miles of desert toward Ethiopia, past the bones of adults and children who had fallen on the trek; witnessing the deaths of friends and family members; killing soldiers and civilians with a gun he could barely lift; starving to the point of near-cannibalism, and coming to the edge of suicide. Remarkably, Jal survived, and his life began to change when he was adopted by a British aid worker."