Unfortunately, war is something that seems to be going on somewhere or the other at all times. And in many places, when there’s a shortage of soldiers, even the most innocent faces are forced to take up arms against their brothers.
Did You Know?
US athlete Lopez Lomong, the flag bearer at the 2008 Olympics, was a former child soldier of Sudan.
No matter which side of the world we live in, we always strive for peace. For our peace of mind, yes, for living a better life, of course. But we do it mostly for our children and future generations. After all, children are our future in making our countries prosper. A country progresses on the shoulders of the young and brave. But what if children don’t get to live the way they deserve?
Instead of letting children explore their childhood with curiosity and innocence, many are rather subjected to a harsh world. You have probably heard of child labor, in which countries and organizations exploit children to bear the burden of the economy. But there are worse things that could happen to children. Some of them are recruited to serve in the army at a very young age, in the form of child soldiers. In the upcoming sections, we tell you some child soldier facts, that may shock even the brave-hearts.
Who are Child Soldiers?
Child soldiers are recruited at an early age into the army. They are easy to manipulate because of their innocence. Some of them are lured into the army under false pretenses of heroics and martyrdom. Others join as a result of poverty or to defend the country they grew up in.
Forced recruitment of children comes easy when soldiers are paid incentives to hire them for a soldier-starved army. Girls are frequently used as sexual favors to recruit soldiers, and at times assigned to a commander. Children are hired mainly as lookout or spies, since they can be tried leniently even if they were caught. They are even used as human shields in the face of war.
Facts About Child Soldiers
The Myanmar army has recruited child soldiers consistently for more than 20 years, and some estimate the number to be as high as 70,000 under the age of 18.
Myanmar recruitment officers destroy the age documentation provided by underage children, and recruit them under the threat of intimidation or imprisonment.
In Myanmar, civilian brokers and police officers are provided compensation for recruits, amounting to 25,000 – 30,000 kyat, equivalent to three times the salary of an army private.
Children are often sent to detention camps, and undergo a rigorous 18-week military training, before being put on the field in the Myanmar Army.
In Myanmar, children caught escaping are either shot dead or sentenced to imprisonment for five years. After carrying out the sentence, they are forced to rejoin the army, even if they are still under 18 years of age.
Children in Myanmar who are lucky enough to escape to neighboring countries, often face further danger, due to the ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between armies to hand back deserters.
The United Wa State Army is the largest recruiter of child soldiers, and forcibly abducts children for this process in Myanmar.
The Khmer Rouge of Cambodia abducted children and indoctrinated their own philosophy in a separate commune. They were forced to fight the Vietnamese army.
Sri Lanka’s LTTE was notorious for recruiting and using children during the ’80s.
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), also known as ISIS, has recruited children as young as nine to be soldiers. They were seen wearing masks and making arrests in the streets of Mosul.
In ISIS, child soldiers are made to practice executions by beheading dolls. They act as shields in the front lines, and to provide blood transfusions for ISIS militants.
The Taliban in Afghanistan raises child soldiers as suicide bombers.
Children from age of 7 played a big part of the Palestinian uprising in 1988, where they reported on Israeli soldier movements and resorted to stone-throwing if they ventured close.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey recruits child soldiers for fighting its wars against Syria.
Saddam’s Lion Cubs (Ashbal Saddam) trained boys aged 10 to 15 in small arms as well as infantry tactics.
Child suicide bombers were used continuously in the Israeli-Palestine conflict during 2000-2005.
Iran used child soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war when they were attacked indiscriminately on September 22, 1980.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines has been accused of training child soldiers into tough men to follow in the principles of jihad.
Child soldiers have been used in the Yemeni army to hold back anti-government protesters.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, headed by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spirit medium, recruits child soldiers for their army.
The LRA used to raid schools in northern Uganda and abduct the entire school population.
Almost 30 percent of Ugandan child soldiers are girls. They don’t take part in battle, but cook and serve as sex slaves.
Child soldiers in Uganda have been advised by their leader Kony to draw a cross on their chest with oil that would protect them from bullets.
In the same country, rituals are performed on the new recruits, with some being forced to drink blood or to swear a blood oath.
Child soldiers in Uganda are posted in remote lands so as to dissuade them from escaping to their homeland.
In Uganda, children who try to escape are forced to lie down and hit continuously on the back of the head till they die. This instills fear in other recruits, and serves as a warning to those who try to do the same.
In Sierra Leone, there were 6,914 child soldiers. The movie ‘Blood Diamond’ portrayed the life of the people and abuse of children as child soldiers in Sierra Leone.
Children in Sierra Leone were given amphetamines or other drugs, which makes them easy to control or commit vile acts such as murder and torture.
Many child soldiers in Sierra Leone are organized into small units to participate in politically motivated acts of violence, such as throwing stones or planting bombs at preplanned rallies.
The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone kidnapped children and forced them to fight in the civilian war that took place between 1991 and 2002. Eighty percent of them were boys, ranging from the age of seven to fourteen, and served in the Small Boys Unit. Twenty percent consisted of girls, and were subject to sexual violence.
The combat roles taken up by boys and girls in Sierra Leone included spying, looting, burning villages, maiming and torture of civilians, acting as shields for their commanders, and capturing other child soldiers.
Children were usually branded or given tattoos to instill a sense of companionship and loyalty to the RUF.
The Al-Shabaab insurgency of Somalia has 900+ child soldiers in their army, while the Somali National Army has 200+ child soldiers at present.
The Al-Shabaab militia maintains an army of women who administer first-aid to wounded men in their jihadist fights, as well as spread the word about their ideology at madrassas.
In Somalia, some soldiers are as young as ten. They are recruited at football fields, and packed off in a group for military training.
Children in Somalia were ordered to blend into their environment and report back on anyone who spoke against the militants.
Young girls in Uganda are often initiated into the group as ‘wives’ for the commander. If the father denies the request, he’s intimidated by death threats, until he finally gives in.
Boko Haram, an Islamist movement in Nigeria, kidnaps young women from farms to serve as ‘wives’, and boys as young as 12 to serve in their army.
Child soldiers in Chad are recruited with the lure of cigarettes and money, with $20-50 offered for each recruit. Children aged between 13 and 17 face direct combat, while children as young as 10 are used as messengers.
More than 38,000 child soldiers have taken part in the Liberian civil war.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has been releasing child soldiers since March 2004. Forest Whitaker, one of the goodwill ambassadors, wishes to stop the recruitment of child soldiers in South Sudan. He established the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative to liberate child soldiers and reintegrate them back into society.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, has about 30,000 child soldiers in its army. One reason that they use child soldiers is that the rebels refuse to hurt them. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison for recruiting child soldiers between 2002 – 2003.
The number of child soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) has 10,000 boys and girls in its employment. Most of them joined for gaining revenge or a way to earn some money.
The Ivorian Government has conducted a recruitment drive for children living on the borders of Liberia and Ivory Coast.
The Mozambican group RENAMO initiated children by sending them back to their village, and killing a person known to each.
The Chechen Separatists of the Chechen Republic recruits children to fight their wars against the Russian Army.
Almost 3,000 boys fought in the Balkan Wars that took place between 1991 – 1995 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, formerly a part of Yugoslavia.
The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of Yugoslavia recruited school-going children by press-ganging them or making them submit by beating them up.
Children in Bolivia between the ages of 14 – 17 were forced to join the Bolivian armed forces.
In Mexico, child soldiers are used by drug cartels to smuggle weapons and drugs across the border. These children are also used as assassins by the paramilitary organization called Los Zetas, and are referred to as ‘sicaritos’.
In El Salvador, gang leaders recruit children as young as 9. They usually join due to poverty, and gain respect in the community.
In Brazil, hundreds of homeless children roam the favelas (slums). They are recruited easily because they are desperate to earn their livelihood through any means possible, in order to obtain money, power, and respect. The film ‘City of God’ depicts the current situation in the favelas, and the recruitment of child soldiers.
In Colombia, terrorist organizations like FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) recruit child soldiers for spying by using candy laced with marijuana. The National Liberation Army (ELN), along with FARC, have assimilated about 1,400 children in the last 2 years.
FARC recruits child soldiers at schools by providing guns to young recruits, which other children immediately idolize and wish to imitate. Child soldiers are nicknamed ‘little bees’, because they sting their enemies before they begin their attack. According to a report in 2012, 14,000 children were involved in the conflict between ELN and FARC.
Many child soldiers are currently being moved to rehabilitation camps. They undergo psychological training, which helps them forget the terrors of mutilation, gang rapes, and executions. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (CSUCS), now known as Child Soldiers International, a non-profit organization, was formed to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers and ensure their reintegration to society. UNICEF advocated the policy of DRD (Demobilization, Reintegration, and Disarmament) to aid them. February 12, observed as Red Hand Day, acts as a plea to all the developed nations to overthrow countries that recruit child soldiers, and support the children affected by it.