There is no doubt children pay the highest price for wars, wherever they might be. Today millions of them have to live in war conditions despite being very young, live with heavy bombardment on a daily basis, start their mornings amidst a background of explosions and screams, and suffer from trauma caused by armed conflicts, when what they should be doing is playing with their peers at schoolyards. Instead, children of all ages, get injured, are killed or lose their families. Most of the time, they end up as vulnerable refugees all alone in foreign lands. Frequently they are abused, or face constant threat of imminent death due to various reasons including malnutrition, lack of sanitation or basic standards of living. Maybe worse, hundred of thousands are forced to be soldiers.
One thing the guerilla wars across the globe have in common today is their frequent use of child soldiers, which sometimes exploit them to be used as human shields. There are now 30 countries reported to be home to 300,000 child soldiers.
Some of these countries are Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Congo, Mali, Myanmar and Philippines.
As the number of conflict zones rise around the world, so does the number of children forced to fight in these wars. Very vulnerable and impressionable due to their young age, child-soldiers are frequently abused both by armed rebel groups, and occasionally at the hands of the governments. Children that are orphaned due to wars, that witnessed the murder of their families, or who are suffering from poverty, are at particular risk.
Retired Canadian general Romeo Dallaire summarizes the ordeal of child soldiers in his book entitled They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: “As you read this, there is a child as young as eight, nine, ten and up to seventeen years of age who is at the brink of losing his or her childhood to war, who is starting on the path of believing that violence is an acceptable part of life.”
For instance, Simon, a 12-year-old former child-soldier from South Sudan, now wants to be a pilot. But things weren’t always easy: “Being back home is better than being in the military because in the military when you make a mistake they take you to jail and they beat you for weeks. I was cooking and washing clothes. So when I was released as a soldier and they (UNICEF) took me to the care center, I became a good person. There no one disturbed me. No one beat me. And I received food. I don’t think small children should be soldiers.”
Child soldiers were first used in the Vietnam war, and then as suicide bombers in Israel-Palestine conflict. Today, they are used widely as suicide bombers across the Middle East. Myanmar on the other hand houses the largest number of child soldiers, where under-age soldiers make up 20% of the army.
Child soldiers are also frequently used in conflict zones like Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda. During the civil war in Libya, child soldiers were responsible for the security of the buildings together with Zwaya and Tabu units in Kufra and carried weapons. During the 17-year old war in Afghanistan, many children were forced to fight. The number of them were so high, at one point, 45% of the soldiers were under 18.
Child-soldiers in Syria, which is in its sixth year of civil war, is now considered almost normal. Children rights advocate Rallf Willinger explains: ‘All warring sides use child soldiers. Some do it in plain sight, while others use them as doctor assistants or as spies, putting them at great risk’.
The situation is not very different in Iraq that has been a battlefield since 2003. Rallf Willinger maintains that as the war prolongs, it gets more difficult for children to stay out of these clashes.
A17-year old South Sudanese said to Human Rights Watch that he didn't know how to use a gun until he was abducted and made a soldier one day. He was trained and sent to the battlefield with others: ‘7 of us were killed right on the first day.’ There are currently 16 thousand child soldiers fighting in South Sudan, and one third of the soldiers in Yemen are known to be children.
Another country where children are abducted and forced to be child-soldiers is Central African Republic. Usually lured with promises of money, or smart phones, children are never allowed to go back to their homes after seeing the locations of the bases. And those who leave their units are executed.
There is no doubt that this horrible situation stems from massive waves of troubles and pain engulfing the world. It is completely unacceptable that children, one of the most precious beings on earth, are subjected to this tyranny. People of conscience should come together, mold public opinion as the organizations and NGOS step up their efforts to help. We also kindly expect United Nations to take a stronger stance on the issue and launch campaigns to ensure that all countries contribute to implementation of measures taken to end the ordeal of child soldiers. The solution should not be expected from the Western countries only. The leaders of Islamic countries should also come together and take concrete steps in collaboration with them for a resolution to this serious issue. And what is more, the awareness of the public including families and children in those countries having the same problem should be raised through educational seminars as a precautionary measure.It is crucial that every individual does everything they can to save children who die, get killed, or forced to kill others, who get injured, disabled and who are forced to hurt others at gunpoint, so that a bright future can be built for them.
Adnan Oktar's piece in The Daily Star & Albawaba News & Burma Times: