According to the UN, “Any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms. ” (Abatneh 22). The use of children in armed conflicts is an increasingly widespread phenomenon particularly in recent conflict.
Throughout the world, more than 300,000 children have been recruited by various governments and non-government forces to serve as soldiers, cooks, spies, wives, and messengers. More than 120,000 of these children are in Africa, mainly in Angola, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, The DRC, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda (Abatneh 22). The horrible and tragic faith of many children is set on a path of war, murders and suffering. These former child soldiers need to be rehabilitated in order for them to be reintegrated back into society.
The use of child soldiers in war affects every single aspect of a child’s development. Children affected by war can be injured or killed, taken from their homes and communities, refugees, orphaned or separated from their parents and families, subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation, victims of trauma as a result of being exposed to violence, deprived of education and recreation, and at risk of becoming child soldiers. It is very likely that children living in war areas will be deprived of basic needs such as shelter, food and medical attention.
Also help for children tends to be the last priority in war, resulting in insufficient or no protection for minors. Besides, children are, due to their physical makeup and growth; most are vulnerable to being deprived of food, medical assistance and education, which has a severe and lasting impact on their development (SOS Children). Uganda is perhaps one of the most well known offenders for the use of child soldiers. As is the case in many African nations, Uganda is comprised of 12 ethnic groups, none of which are an overwhelming majority.
Violence has been almost constant since their independence in 1962, whether in the form of outright war, or the repression of dissidents under Prime Ministers Milton Obote, Idi Amin, and Yoweri Museveni. The history of using child soldiers dates back to 1986, when Museveni used child soldiers to help overthrow the second Obote government. Joseph Kony eventually created the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and began kidnapping children to use them as soldiers as early as 1987. Kony, who is from the Acholi tribe and was believed to be “possessed by spirits,” led the LRA to cleanse their own tribe of their sins through cruelty and terrorism.
Kony demonstrated extreme brutality to people in many villages through several large massacres (Eisele). Children from poor and underprivileged families who are seeking physical support or the sense of belonging are particularly vulnerable to manipulation during conflict. Other children are kidnapped and forced to become soldiers. It is estimated that over the last 15 years 10,000 children have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) around Gulu in northern Uganda, alone.
Children are deliberately targeted as they are more easily manipulated than adults and can be brainwashed to perform crimes and violence without asking questions (SOS Children). “War violates every right of a child – the right to life, the right to be with family and nurtured and respected” (SOS Children). Kony was even crueler toward children than adults. The LRA abducted over 4,000 children under the age of 18 between 1997 -1999, and a recent estimate on the total number of children taken has reached 30,000 (Eisele). When these children are taken back or they escape they are sent to rehabilitation centers.
Rehabilitation refers to the process where ex-combatants are prepared to adjust to civilian life before they are reintegrated back into their communities. Rehabilitation often takes place in camps where former child soldiers can get counseling for about 3-6 months (Abatneh 22). Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) intervention programs are intended to bring security and stability to a region after a conflict. There are three levels. First, Disarmament requires that the now former soldiers are taken away from their weapons, and DDR programs often operate a trade-in system, such as weapons for cash.
Demobilization organizes the assembly and registration of ex-combatants, orienting former soldiers on the value of the DDR program, and transporting ex-combatants to desired locations at a time that is in tune with civilian life, such as crop and school cycles. Finally, reintegration ensures social and economic adjustment through the personal empowerment of and financial incentives to ex-combatants (Odeh and Sullivan 1). An increasing numbers can be helped when they participate in programs of disarmament-demobilization-reintegration (DDR) under the support of the U. N. nd various child protection agencies. But many children participating in armed groups won’t be helped. While the tasks of disarmament and demobilization are well structured and tend to proceed fairly smoothly, the task of reintegrating children into back into communities presents the most challenges. This is because returning child soldiers bring with them the remnants of their war experiences. “I feel, even still, I am so weak because of what happened to my mind and my body. I feel like I’m not going to be able to do anything in the future. I don’t see any good thing in my future. ” (Bearden).
A lot of them feel as if they will never be able to return to their normal lives because their childhood was stolen for them. These former child soldiers severely need to be help in reintegrating them back into their communities. Citations * Abatneh, Abraham Sewonet. “Chapter 1. ” Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Rwandan Child Soldiers. 2006. 22. Print. * Bearden, Tom. “In Uganda, Former Child Soldiers Struggle to Overcome Horrors of War. ” PBS NewsHour. PBS. 16 Nov. 2010. Television. Transcript. * “Children in Conflict: Child Soldiers. ” Child Soldiers. Ed. SOS Children.
SOS Children’s Village. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://www. child-soldier. org/>. * Eisele, Sarah. “An Exploration of Child Soldiering in Three Countries. ” Child Soldiers. IASSW AIETS. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <http://www. iassw-aiets. org/index. php? option=com_content&view=article&id=124:child-soldiers&catid=58:other-reports-and-papers&Itemid=88>. * Odeh, Michael, and Colin Sullivan. Recent Developments in International Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers. Children in Armed Conflict. Washington, DC: YAP International, 2004. 1. YAPI. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://www. yapi. org/rpchildsoldierrehab. pdf>.