MORE AND MORE of the world is being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum. This is a space devoid of the most basic human values; a space in which children are slaughtered, raped, and maimed; a space in which children are exploited as soldiers; a space in which children are starved and exposed to extreme brutality. writes Graca Machel in the introduction to The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children The report, the result of a two years research and consultation was submitted to the United Nations general Assembly at the end of last year.
teaching and study resource
education for peace
The AK-47 can be stripped and reassembled by a child of 10
The report reveals the full extent of childrens involvement in the 30 or so armed conflicts raging around the world. Millions of children are caught up in conflicts in which they are not merely bystanders, but targets. Some fall victim to a general onslaught against civilians; others die as part of a calculated genocide. Still others suffer the effects of sexual violence or the multiple deprivations of armed conflict that expose them to hunger or disease. Worse still perhaps, thousands of young people are cynically exploited as combatants.
The use of child soldiers is hardly new. Children have served armies in supporting roles as cooks, porters, messengers and spies. Increasingly, however, children are deliberately conscripted as soldiers. It is estimated that there are over a quarter of a million children, some as young as seven, serving in government armies and armed opposition groups. Generally, however, child soldiers are statistically invisible, as governments and armed opposition groups deny or downplay their role.
While industrialised states look to computer power and robotics to provide the perfect fighting machine at a more basic level children offer ready-made, dispensable weapons platforms to the mind detached from humanity. The proliferation of light weapons has made it easier to make use of children as combatants. Assault rifles are cheap and widely available, thanks to the international arms trade. In Uganda, an AK-7 can be bought for the cost of a chicken. Previously, the more dangerous weapons were heavy or complex, but now guns are so light that children can use them, and so simple that they can be stripped and reassembled by a child of ten.
Children are seen as more obedient, less likely to question orders and easier to manipulate. Many are forcibly recruited, seized from the streets, or even from schools or orphanages whilst others are driven to join armed groups by fear or poverty, believing that this is the only way to achieve some protection from the violence around them or to be sure of regular meals, clothing or medical attention.
Child soldiers often start out in support functions. Boys serve as porters or as messengers. Girls may prepare food or attend to the wounded. However, both boys and girls are soon forced onto the battlefield, where their youth and inexperience leave them particularly vulnerable. Often they are unaware of the real dangers they face; they may even forget to take cover. In a particularly brutal variant of basic training children have been deliberately exposed to horrific scenes to harden them to violence. Some have even been forced to commit atrocities against their own families as a way of severing all ties with their communities.
The report calls for a global campaign to stop the recruitment of anyone under 18 into armed forces and to encourage governments and opposition groups immediately to demobilize all such children. It recommends that all peace agreements specifically address the need to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers back into society. It also calls on all governments to support the early conclusion and adoption of a draft Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would establish the minimum age of recruitment into and participation in armed forces as 18 years.
Chechen boys stand guard at check point in Grozny
CHILDREN IN WAR
children in war
effects of war
Decoding the image -
Media and violence survey
Children and advertising
Advertising to children - the european view
Kid's TV - preventing violence
The politics of war play -
Rights of the Child
About the Convention
Part One (articles 1- 41)
Part Two (Articles 42 - 45)
Part Three (Articles 46-54)
Draft Optional Protocoll