Child Soldiers – The deadly game

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 Najat was 15 years old and had never used a gun. One day a man came to his village, not far from El Fascher in Darfur (Sudan), and asked him if he wanted to earn some money. Najat and his cousin Waleed with other boys and a few girls followed the man. They arrived in a village bordering Chad. Other children were already there. They followed orders. After a few days, they received a brand new Kalashnikov. Najat said, “We learnt the names of our commanders and they told us that we were part of the Séléka movement.” Only two weeks later, Najat and his friends were sent to fight in Central Africa.
Al Jazeera’s military base is on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. The recruit, Mahad, is 14 years old. The instructors are in a hurry and want him to be ready for the new Somali Army. He joined the Army to earn some money to maintain his three little sisters. But he as a dream: to become a famous painter.
In a small village in Northern Uganda, Christiane prepares food for her three children. She still has a baby face, even if she is 22. Christiane was nine that night, when the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attacked her village and kidnapped her. The next ten years were true hell: she was always moving, treated as a slave. She tells her story, “In all these years, we were always on the go: we never stopped in a place for more than three days. We ate what we looted in the villages or what we got in the forest. I was the ‘wife’ of several rebels. I saw many young girls dying of hunger and others being killed when trying to escape.”
In a red jumper and black trousers, Ahmed, 8 year old, looks as if he were dressed in a school uniform. For several weeks now, however, has been on the front. He is too small to hold his weapon properly, but this little boy is already a fighter in the Syrian civil war. “I ended up helping my uncle and his comrades because I have no other choice, there is no school, and my family is dead, what choice do I have?” he said. Now the only person Ahmed has left is his uncle, a rebel who the boy follows and imitates as he fights against government soldiers. “The weapons are heavy and I still have difficulty using them, I can only shoot lying on the floor,” he continued.
dos12Today, according to the estimates of the International Coalition, an NGO that is working against the recruitment of child soldiers, more than 250,000 minors are fighting in government armies or in guerrilla movements.
Child soldiers are fighting in 14 countries: in 2004, they were fighting in 24 states. This decrease, however, according to the International Coalition “is more the consequence of the end of several conflicts than the impact of the initiatives against the recruitment and use of child soldiers.” In these 14 countries, minors are recruited also by pro-government soldiers or by the self-defence militias, in order to counter guerrilla incursions, or by illegal militias that support the regular army. In some cases, the armies use the children as spies or informers. It is clear that, even if international pressure had an effect on some governments that demobilized children or pledged to do so, the guerrilla movements continued to recruit them.
Most child soldiers are between 14 and 18, but many were “recruited” at the age of 10. Above all, there are children without families (orphans, children who lost their parents during mass migrations, etc.), sons and daughters of poor and illiterate parents, refugees, street children, and kids belonging to ethnic minorities. It is clear that the only choice for these abandoned children, who live in extreme poverty, is to starve to death or to die on the battlefields. Many teenagers join the militias “voluntarily”, because they identify the army with the family that was destroyed by the war, while others try to avenge their relatives. In other cases, a village may be forced to provide a certain number of children as soldiers in exchange for being safe from attack. Some children are volunteered by their parents due to extreme poverty and hunger at home.
dos14Girl soldiers are also involved. A January 2013 World Bank briefing, Children in Emergency and Crisis Situations, states “The use of girls [by armed forces] has been confirmed in Colombia, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), East Timor, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, and West Africa. There are some 12,500 in DRC. However, girls are generally less visible and up to now have hardly benefited from demobilization and reintegration programmes for child soldiers.” Today, about 40 percent of the hundreds of thousands of child soldiers scattered across the world’s conflicts are thought to be girls. In June 2013, The UN set a goal to have no child soldiers by 2016. There is a list of eight Government armies that recruit and use children – six have already committed to making their armies child-free. In 2012, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo signed action plans with the United Nations. The previous year, Afghanistan and Chad made similar commitments. Discussions initiated with the Governments of Yemen and Sudan are expected to lead to action plans in the near future. (M.S.)


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