Whenever I see pictures and videos of children, some even just toddlers, bearing weapons like brave soldiers ready to face war with the enemies, I ask myself, “What kind of conscience do people have to expose such children to danger?” They are taught to hate the enemy and fight with all their might at the cost of the children’s innocent lives.
Just days ago videos of Syrian child soldiers were featured in the Vocativ by writer Versha Sharma. One video showed an innocent infant in a stroller holding a gun. Others just barely years older, are holding heavy weapons almost as tall as they are. The young combatants seem so eager to fight the enemies to gain their freedom from an oppressive government. Anyone under a suppressed environment would if they understood what they are fighting for. But for these young soldiers, the realization that they are in danger do not sink in until they actually have to pull the trigger, throw grenades and get shot at. Then the nightmare and trauma they are already in worsen.
Children have always been an attraction in conflict zones because of their vulnerability and impressionable minds. They are eager to discover and follow what they are told without many questions. They resist less, therefore much easier to condition and train. Their small size and agility also make them stealthier and less suspicious to their hostile enemies. They are used as messengers, baits, even shields. Not anyone would suspect or just kill an innocent child, so they can roam around with some freedom and even avoid checkpoints. But when they are out there in the warzone and witness their companions killed or being shot at, they cry in fear…because they are after all, children who still need to be protected and understand the ways of the world.
How these child soldiers are recruited vary. Many children in African nations like Sudan, Congo, and Sierra Leone are kidnapped by rebel groups. They are brainwashed and manipulated to hate the enemies. Those too young and cannot be assigned for combat are left in the camp to do chores. They prepare the food, tend to the wounded and serve the soldiers. It is much worse for the female recruits. They become sex slaves of soldiers as well though there have been reported incidents of males going through the same ordeal. The children are exposed to all kinds of danger including sexualized violence which has become a common weapon of war.
I cannot say which is much worse: the children kidnapped by rebels and forced to be child soldiers, or parents volunteering their own children to fight like soldiers and allowing them to be at the forefront of conflict zones. I have never lived near a conflict zone area. I don’t know what goes on in the minds of families who voluntarily let their children be exposed to the dangers of war as child soldiers. It is traumatic enough that the children are in the midst of conflict but it is so much worse that they are sent to the frontlines to fight. I can understand that that children may have to be taught to defend themselves but I cannot comprehend why they would risk their own children’s lives by actually sending them to war when they should be playing with toys and not guns or going to school.
In April 2011, the United Nations’ (UN) reported that there were 600 child soldiers in conflict areas in Southern Philippines who were being reintegrated and rehabilitated to local communities. I can’t help thinking how fortunate they are to have a chance at a better life and will soon be able to live as normal children again. Others never make it and become part of the “collateral damage.”
There are over 250,000 child soldiers in the world. Whatever the reason, there is no justification at throwing these children in a situation where their young minds, bodies and emotions cannot cope. They cannot just be thrown to the wolves to be devoured by the violence of war because they are obedient, impressionable and easily manipulated. The UN and several NGOs continue to work in coordination with governments and rebel groups to bring these children back into the mainstream of society. These children deserve a future. We cannot just turn a blind eye and do nothing.
1. UN finds 600 child soldiers in Philippines (channelnewsasia.com) -
2. Child Soldiers In Syria: Sick Mascots or the New Face of Global Jihad? -