The Scandal Of Child Soldiers

Based on an article by Declan Fahy The Irish Times

Sierra Leone is a part of the world where children have suffered the worst forms of child exploitation, now a global issue. It had an estimated 6,000 child combatants during the war. A further 5,000 were used as forced labor in rebel camps. The war was fought from 1991 between government forces and armed groups, including the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)

Children as young as seven were recruited by the RUF and the AFRC. But it was not only the rebel factions which recruited children. Up to 30 percent of government-sponsored Citizens Defence Forces (CDF) militias were between seven and 14. The children were made to take drugs, commit atrocities against their families and neighbors, and were forced to become sex slaves.

Recently, peace was declared in the country and many former child combatants, with aid from Caritas Makeni, are now being formally educated or are learning vocational skills.

Draft of violence

Worldwide there are, at any one time, 300,000 child soldiers serving in armed forces in 40 countries. A total of two million children have died in armed conflict during the past 10 years. Countries affected in Africa as well as Sierra Leone include Angola, Burundi and Uganda and probably most of Sudan.

In Sri Lanka, of 180 Tamil Tiger guerillas killed in one government attack, more than half were still in their teens. And a survey of wounded soldiers in Cambodia found that one fifth were between the ages of 10 and 14 when recruited.

What we desperately need is that all governments, including rebel groups, will adopt the UN protocol which makes it illegal for armed forces of all types to recruit people under 18. This also applies to using children to act as message carriers through enemy lines as that leaves the children vulnerable to being tortured.

Here in the Philippines, high school students undergo Citizens’ Army Training. Several active groups of insurgents use under-18s in their struggles.