Child Soldiers

Child soldiers. From the Human Rights Education Association

Despite the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Rome Statute and various other international humanitarian laws, children are still being used as soldiers in war.  These children are often faced with no alternative and they turn to the army to escape poverty, no education, exclusion or being killed, according to an article posted by the IRIN.

These child soldiers are being used as suicide bombers and killing machines.  Those that are not used to fight, are used as scouts, to run errands or to cook and clean for the soldiers.  The young girls are often forced into labor of sex.

Ishmael Baeh. Picture from synthasite.

Before entering college, Syracuse University asked us all to read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. This book was riveting and pulled at your heart. Ishmael Beah recounts his time as a boy soldier in the Sierre-Leone civil war.  At the age of 12, Beah’s life was turned upside down when he found himself wandering from city to city because of the war, then in the midst of the war as a child soldier.  He recounts what it was like to be a child soldier, consumed by mass killings and drugs.  The mindset, emotions and visuals one takes away from the book are deeply profound and could not be written by an outsider. The book goes on to tell about when he was taken to a rehabilitation center in the capital at 15. This book is truly inspiring, but rare. Most children who become child soldiers do not end up coming to America, graduating from a college and becoming a writer and spokesperson on the issue of child soldiers.

What Beah was given was a harsh experience, with a some-what happy ending.  But he is the exception, not the rule.

The enactment of various international humanitarian laws have aided in preventing the use of child soldiers, but it has in no way stopped it from happening.  There are still dozens of forces that use child soldiers (predominantly in Africa), and they have no “shame” in it.  Currently, the most strategic plan the international community has in preventing this is the “name and shame” game.  The international community names the countries who use child soldiers and this automatically shames them- with the hope that this shame will make them take the initiative to stop.  The only flaw I find in this approach is that those who use child soldiers in this day and age have no shame in it.  You can only shame those who can be shamed by it, and those who use child soldiers today are not ashamed by it.  They feel it is a tool of warfare, just like anything else.

Now, the international community also has various other entities that are more substantial and could have a better impact.  However, the creation of these humanitarian laws and the application of them are two different things.  Entities, such as the ICC and ICJ, have been created to prosecute the countries and people who have committed atrocities (including using child soldiers) during wartime; however, the ICC and ICJ have barely been used in this capacity.

Can you imagine the difference it would make it if the ICC or ICJ began prosecuting those who used child soldiers? Or if the international communities addressed and began eradicating the main reason children join armies?


About Haley Behre

I graduated from Syracuse University in December 2011 with majors in newspaper journalism and women and gender studies. Using these majors, I aspire to become a journalist who writes about human rights issues. I have held internships at the Syracuse New Times, Dash Media PR Firm, Syracuse Post-Standard and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. I also had an internship at the Not For Sale Campaign Syracuse chapter, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. I was born in Seoul, Korea on September 30, 1990 and moved to the United States before I was one year old. When I was 8, my family and I moved to Norwich, England for three years. While I was here I was immersed into a new culture and got to experience many things other children my age do not get to. Over the three years, I visited Ireland, France and the Netherlands several times, and Belgium, Wales and Sweden once. In the winter of 2010, I got an amazing opportunity to visit Kenya for a month. This was by far the single most eye-opening experience of my life thus far. The natural beauty of the landscape and its people do not compare to anything I have seen. I currently intern for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press in the hopes of getting a full-time job at a newspaper or non-profit after.
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