Posted: July 1st, 2012 | Author: Giandra | Filed under: Human Rights, Military | Tags: Burma, child soldiers, philippines, United nations
‘’The people I killed looked like chicken to me, they were of no use. I have killed children, women and pregnant women. I have killed so many people that I don’t even know how many anymore. When we go to war, the children were in front’’. These are the words of a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone ( 1991-2002). Wars in Africa are not uncommon, neither are child soldiers. Political instability and poor economic situation have created many failed states in Africa, leading to continuous civil wars such as the civil war in Sierra Leone. The use of child soldiers is a shocking case that we think only happens in Africa; however this is not the case. Historically Asia has known many wars in which child soldiers have been used. This case is still prevalent today. Myanmar, Philippines, and Nepal are all Asian countries facing this deplorable situation. According to UNICEF, the UN children fund, there are approximately 300.000 child soldiers, in over 36 countries in the world. Many people may think this is a large number, yet this amount is due to the definition of a child soldier.
UNICEF defines a child soldier as “any child boy or girl under 18 years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity”. This definition includes, but is not limited to those children on the fields combating and carrying arms, children recruited for sexual abuse, to cook, to spy and messengers, only to mention some.
In the Philippines and Nepal, children are used in the opposition forces. According to Human Rights Watch (2012), the Philippines signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict, yet the New People’s Army, Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who fight to have a separate Islamic State or to overthrow the democratic government still recruit children as soldiers. This protocol requires governments who ratify it to strengthen the protection of children in armed conflicts and take all feasible measures to avoid using child soldiers. Nevertheless, the reality in the Philippines is different to what the government has signed for. In Burma, on the other hand, they are used in both government militaries and ethnic armed opposition forces. Children as young as 11 years are recruited to serve in Burma as child soldiers. Despite the cooperation between the government and International Labor Organization ILO to demobilize child soldiers, the military still recruits child soldiers. The reason for using child soldiers is questionable to most people ; however it has much logic to the military.
According to Eben Kaplan researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, children can be easily manipulated, they are tenacious and daring, especially when drugged. In addition, they are too young to understand what they are doing. Nevertheless, it can also create confusion on battle fields since professional western soldiers are reluctant to fight against child soldiers. I can imagine that it is difficult to help a country by killing children when this is generally morally unacceptable. Surprisingly, most of these children become soldiers voluntarily. According to Schmidt (2003) Consultant for International Development and Sustainability, based on primary data collected, two out of three child soldiers in African wars volunteered. UNICEF argues that the reasoning behind this is that it is the only way to be guaranteed daily food and survival. Many of these children are displaced, live in conflict areas, and are homeless or orphans. Some simply sign up to avenge the death of their family.
Conflicts don’t last forever. What happens afterward when the conflicts have ended? Military conflicts often last for many years and are brutal. After these conflicts, children who have been involved are left with visible physiological scars. What people don’t see is that children in conflicts often suffer afterwards from psychological distress. They lack education and often are denied association by their old communities. To help these children, UNICEF together with its partners works towards re-integration and protection of these children in the community. They do so by providing identification services, transit care, family tracing and repatriation programmes, and providing psycho-social support.
Other organizations that also work to fight and help child soldiers are Amnesty international and War Child. War Child focuses on providing child protection, education and justice. In addition, they help build sustainable livelihoods and stimulate the children’s psycho-social development. This work is mostly carried out post conflict.
Having child soldiers contradicts with the core principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention was introduced in 1989 by the United Nation, Preceding this convention was the Declaration on the Rights of the Child by the League of Nations. The right to non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child are all being violated. The right to live, to develop, to be safe and in the proximity of the parents and the right to an education are only some examples of the numerous rights that are violated when child soldiers are recruited.
According to UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Pernille Ironside, the way to avoid child use in armed conflicts is long-term investment in poverty reduction, in peace building and reconciliation and in creating employment opportunities for young people. International Crisis Group’s Senior Adviser John Predergast reiterates this by saying that “Child soldiers will be used by [warring] parties for as long as the war continues. There must be a political solution.” From these two experts it can be concluded that solving the political issues and having a stable state, together with economic prosperity is the only way to stop child soldiers.
The problem of having child soldiers is not only that it is against the children’s right, but also that it brings many future social problems. Re-integration is difficult for these children since the society thinks that they are dangerous. Rehabilitation is difficult and costly to the society and the child. On long term, the economic future of the state will be jeopardized and it will not get out of poverty. This is caused by the low level of education the children had and their physiological and psychological problems. This creates a cycle of poverty and instability that can continuously lead to wars. In the Philippines, the laws are established and they only need to be enforced. Burma is currently working towards reform, which I am cautiously positive that will decrease the use of child soldiers. It is now a question of political willingness to actively address the issue and enforce the rule of law.
For further reference to the Convention on the Rights of the Child click here .
Articles 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 31, 32, 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38 can be addressed to see the violations when using child soldiers.