Child Soldiers Today


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Background


A child soldier is defined as any person under age 18 who is "part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and those accompanying such groups, other than purely as family members.

The military use of young children takes three distinct forms: children can take direct part in hostilities (Child soldiers), or they can beused in support roles such as porters, spies, messengers, look outs, and sexual slaves; or they can be used for political advantage either as human shields or in propaganda.


About a third of the world's child soldiers are in Africa which is equal to about 120,000 children.

Survivors


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Personal Stories
  • Fatmata Kamara, a 17 year old girl of Sierra Leone spent the last 11 years of her life as a slave and being the wife of a warlord. Ever since the war, Kamara has only recalled the destructive event when the rebels rampaged her village by looting and killing innocent civilians. That day, the only thought she had in her head was death, but she ended up being only one of two survivors that day. Once she was taken she recalls being abused everyday. The only thing that she has to cling to is memories from her very short childhood. Unfortunately, for many children they have no idea where there families are, or even if they are alive, and to make things worse Fatmata has no idea where her village is located. Luckily, for Fatmata her family was eventually found and she is now reunited with them while still being scarred from the war.
  • Stephen Swankay was just 10 years old when was abducted by rebels. After being captured, he spent the next four years doing anything the RUF told him to do. Luckily Stephen was released by a UN-broker peace agreement in 1999 and was able to return to his family. Afterwards, Swankay only wanted to pursue his education and forget about the pain and struggle from the war.
  • Abu Bakar Bangura was a child soldier who does not even know his age, but he was very young when he was taken from his family. He is one of the 10,000 children who were abducted from their homes and forced to become soldiers for both the rebels and the pro-government forces. Once he was kidnapped by the rebels, he was drugged, beaten, and forced to commit horrible violent acts. Like many child soldiers he lived a childhood of fear and violence instead of innocence and affection. During his time as a child soldier he was a quick learner, and he survived by following orders. The child was released by the rebels after the UN-peace broker agreement. After his release, he went to the Child Protection Care Center in Kono. While there he learned he only had a limited amount of time there because afterward his options were foster care or to return to his family. Luckily he eventually found his family and was returned safely. Although he is now living in peace, he still has awful emotional scars which he carries with him and as a result he has a tough time dealing with the memories of his haunting past.
  • "For Djibril Karim, who was recruited into the Sierra Leone army at the age of 13, the goal was sheer survival. With his parents and brothers killed by rebel forces, Djibril explained in an interview with Africa Recovery, he wandered the countryside for months trying to find a safe place, eventually ending up at a small town protected by an army camp. To stay there, he and other refugee children had to work in the camps for the soldiers. "You had to collaborate with the military in order to breathe in that town," he recalls. Then as rebels killed more and more adult soldiers, the army turned increasingly to younger recruits. The children were confronted with a stark choice: "you can either join us or you leave." And leaving meant almost certain death at rebel hands.
After less than a week of rudimentary training, Djibril and his mates were sent out into active combat, where they again were faced with a choice: either die or kill rebels -- some of whom were themselves children. In his first ambush against the rebels, Djibril initially was too frightened to shoot. Then those next to him were hit, "and their blood was all over my face and my uniform. There was no other way out. You had to pull the trigger." Of the hundred or so soldiers in his unit, more than half were children. "Some of the kids were so young they couldn't even hold the gun. They had to drag it on the ground.""


Rebuilding


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Every society of Sierra Leone has been greatly harmed by the use of children as soldiers. Anytime the UN had a child soldier released, the first thing they did was take the children to transit centers which they ensure the children, no military personal will be present. Upon arrival at the transit center they receive much needed psychological help. However, for the children the transition was not easy as they caused chaos within the transit center by stealing, breaking windows, and jumping volunteers. Along with the chaos the children also had problems with each other pending if they fought with the rebels or the army, and as a result riots would break out. The transit center also offers education needs. Every person working for the transit center knows education is a great necessity as their education will offer them a shot at an income in the future. In return most children reject the education at first by selling their school supplies while also outright refusing the service, but then some eventually come around. After months in the transit center, pending on the child’s mental situation they are reunited with their families or placed in foster homes if no surviving family members can be traced. Yet, assimilating back into society is still not simple because of the amount of hatred in Sierra Leone.


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Sadly, inserting education back into a child soldier is a difficult task. Organizations such as UNICEF and UNESCO have provided education to the soldiers immediately upon transition to rehabilitation facilities. Many of the survivors have been reluctant to continue their lives with education, but others have chosen to go on with their lives by thriving to learn.
For the children, community reintegration is not enough if schooling is not provided. The survivors require necessary skills in order to operate in everyday life. If they are not properly educated, they are extremely vulnerable to re-recruitment by armed factions.

"The best way to support a child is to provide him with education and an opportunity for an income." Mr. Jean-Claude Legrand, a senior adviser to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF)






Effect of New Government


Insierra-leonean_policia.jpg a recent report by Lansana Fofana, she describes a problem the police force has been battling.
With the lack of law enforcement and the uprising on criminal activity the Sierra Leonean Police Force proposed a bill to their government to allow youth to join the Force. The bill created much controversy as most people were afraid letting the youth join the police force would spark children in the military like in years past. Others like Mrs. Margaret Sandi, a Freetown housewife and recent mugging victim, believe, "some of the youths may have despicable records, but manage to make it into the volunteer force. My worry is that they may end up tormenting members of the community they are supposed to protect, by engaging in mobile phone and purse snatching, mugging and other petty crime." Other residents of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, believe they are pushing so much for this bill to pass as a political gesture preparing for the 2012 elections. Freetown will be the first to experiment these youth volunteers as a crime combatant. These younglings must be 18 years old, live in the comunity in wich they are volunteering for, and most importantly not have a criminal record. Percautionary measures will be take in order to make sure the volunteers do not impersonate police officers and the only way for these youth volunteers to make an arrest is in cooperations with the Police.
This is just one way the Sierra Leonean government is now attempting to help these abondond children that know nothing but war and fighting. The Sierra Leonean government with aid from the United Nations create rehabilitation centers and and schools for the young men, coupled wth the counsiling provided in these rehab centers the hopes of the government is the children will be able to stablize and return to their comunities with out the fear of the children lashing out and becoming criminals.


Aide Organizations


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It is evident that child soldiers face many challenges following their life in war, and they must learn to live as normal civilians. This is very difficult for most, if not all of them and many precautions must be taken in order to help those former child soldiers to go on. For this reason, aide organizations were formed.

Many organizations such as UNICEF have realized that these former child soldiers need more than just physical help, but also mental and emotional. Since these children have seen so many traumatic things, they need a great amount of healing. This healing includes a new sense of education, participation in peaceful activities in their community and an acceptance by their new environment. DDR (DISARMAMENT, DEMOBILIZATION, AND REINTERGRATION) provisions were newly added to peace accords and these clauses are used to help facilitate the former soldiers to be accepted by society.

In order to rehabilitate, the former soldiers must go through drug withdrawl and a recovery from PDD (posttraumatic stress disorder). Non govermental organization programs create games and other activities that emphasize the building of trust, and non violent conflict resolution. Also, the organizations let the kids use things such as:
-Drawing
-Storytelling
-Music
-Drama
To help talk about their experiences and let go of their trauma.

Recovery can take as long as three years, sometimes more and sometimes children aren't ever fully healed. Ishmael Beah, for example, spent eight months in a rehabilitation facility before being given to an uncle. Beah withdrew from drugs after two months and several months passed for him to be able to sleep at night without being given medication. For most of these kids, a lot of time must pass before they are able to speak of their experiences and accept everything they had to go through and now deal with.

Sixty six organized groups have recently adapted to the DDA principle, and spend their time trying to release child soldiers from the war and helping them rehabilitate. Although in the past most aide organizations have not fully succeeded in their efforts, DDA has really progressed the organizations to the next levels and they are starting to help more.

Documentary on Child Soldiers

Featuring Ishmael Beah




Children of War (Puppy Soldiers)
by Mick Terry
His first contact with an AK,
at the ripe old age- of five,
was the murder of his father outside- their door
by three rebels having a hey-day
as they plundered his- whole tribe,
all- in the names of politics, God- and war.

His mother, beaten & savaged,
had so bravely tried- to fight,
couldn't save his older brothers, both dragged- away.
Through the next two rainy seasons,
he could barely sleep- at night
'til a warring faction came to make him- their slave.

CHILDREN OF WAR, just puppy sol-diers.
A much less visible target, but still all trained- to kill.
CHILDREN OF WAR, just puppy sol-diers.
They're just little boys with grownup toys,
playing war that's all- too real.

They drilled him with wooden rifles,
drugging him to follow commands
with a sergeant barely older than his- own age.
& they showed him tricks of survival
in the forests &- the sands.
And they filled his growing heart with a lot- of hate.

CHORUS

"Hey, this be fun-. All this killing and fighting.
Yes I lose some friends, but we not that close.
Hey, this be fun-. For sure, it be exciting.
But it be my two big brothers I miss most."

Through sickness, death & attrition,
he progressed up through- the ranks.
By the age of thirteen, he was Lieuten-ant Duan.
& he never knew both his brothers
were both soldiers in- a tank
that his RPG took out early one- gray dawn.

CHORUS

Mr. Terry decided to write this song after he had viewed the movie Lord of War staring Nicolas Cage, he plays the part of an arms dealer to both sides of the War in Sierra Leone/Liberia, as well as looking over pictures of child soldiers in Liberia.

Other renditions of the song have been created for several different wars in the past years such as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of the songs have one similar message and purpose. To bring to life and show the world the atrocities war creates.