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Any person under the age of eighteen and is involved in any armed force or group passes for a child soldier. In Africa, the problem of child soldiers has been a social thorn for long given the incessant wars across the continent from West Africa through Southern regions and Eastern parts to Northern Africa. The definition of child soldiers transcends the conventional understanding of boys wielding arms out in the battlefield; the definition now covers girls that are left behind to offer services like cooking or spying (Gbowee, 2011).
The idea of child soldiers thrives mostly in conflict situations to mean that, when a country faces civil war or rebel groups, children are recruited into fighting the war and as aforementioned, Africa plays host to many child soldiers especially because of the volatile political climate of the continent.
Many countries in Africa have gone through civil wars and political instability. These environments provide the perfect conditions for children to be recruited either by forces loyal to the government or the rebel groups.
Uganda has suffered one of the longest civil wars since 1980 involving Joseph Kony against subsequent governments. Sierra Leone recruited child soldiers during the civil wars of the 1990s while Liberia too walked the same route in a bid to oust the then president Charles Taylor (Verhey, 2001, p. 5).
The civil wars in Congo, Somalia, Angola, Sudan, and Ivory Coast all serve to show the extent of Africa’s polarity and degradation of democracy. Dictatorial governments have emerged over the years leading to uprising of rebel groups in opposition to the government of the day, which has been the root cause of civil wars in most African countries.
Causes of Child Soldiers
The presence of a conflict leads to disruption of the normal life of people living in the affected areas. Children no longer have access to basic social amenities like education because schools become inaccessible under war. Many disruptions occur in families and when escaping from the hostile environment, everyone goes his/her own way.
The children are left on their own without protection by their parents or provision of basic needs like food and water. Seeking refuge from hunger and thirst, the rebel groups blackmail them into recruitment (“Child Soldiers Edition,” 2008). Recruitment into becoming soldiers remains as the only hope of escaping death through hunger. Such was the case in most African countries like Sierra Leone.
When children see the atrocities extended to family members, vengeance becomes a driving force behind many child soldiers in Africa. African families are known to be firm and the society very social thus, when violence is perpetrated to some of them by forces loyal to dictatorial governments, the children may join the rebel forces to revenge for their families. The Ugandan government of Iddi Amin and Milton Obote was repressive and committed various atrocities against its own citizens.
The crippled and other physically handicapped people were killed. When rebellion arose through Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni, children were more than willing to be recruited to avenge the death of their loved ones (Singer, 2006, p.7). Fighting also provided a source of income. According to Beah, his joining the national army seems to be influenced by the fact that rebel forces destroyed his childhood when they invaded his village causing him to leave the place he had always called home (2008, p.10).
Poverty has ravaged many parts of Africa and the need for a source of income leading to more recruitment into the armed forces. The source of conflict has sometimes been control of natural resources like is the case in Congo and Sudan. Although Africa holds large deposits of minerals and oil, internal wrangles, conflicts, and eventual civil wars implies that no gains are obtained from the same.
Most rebel forces promise hefty returns to those who will undertake the course of fighting for their own resources. Due to poverty, most families end up recruiting almost the entire family into these rebel groups to increase their income.
Effects of Child Soldiers
Most of the children abducted and forcefully recruited into fighting often suffer a lot later in their life. When they are forcefully recruited to committing crimes like killing and rape, their lives are extensively damaged and their future identity altered (Child Soldiers Edition, 2008). They are deprived of the warmth of growing up in a family setting, the security of parents, and the opportunity to socialize or interact with other children.
They usually suffer from the trauma of killing people and it becomes to them an addiction just like a drug addiction. Beah recounts his traumatic experiences as a boy soldier in the national army of Sierra Leone (2008, p.15). The things he lists in his memoirs are frightening and traumatic to say the least.
Many children lose their lives in the battlefront from bullets, landmines, or suicide missions. However, children who have survived their service as soldiers are most likely to have suffered physical injuries and post-traumatic stress reactions due to the sole effect of being forced to commit atrocities against their own will (Beah, 2008. p.20).
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These may involve such things like nightmares and lack of sleep. However, Beah’s account provides a glimmer hope that even after such conditions; rehabilitation can help reform such children. He particularly reformed and recovered to become an advocate.
The girl child has been the most affected in Africa due to child soldier. Conflicts in Africa have been marred with claims of sexual violence against women especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most young boys joined rebels with a goal of proving their manhood but beyond fighting, they also forcefully took girls as their wives (Gbowee, 2011). These girls have been the subject of rape and violence from the boys who have the sole aim of making the girls submit.
Efforts of Stopping the Vice
The issue of child soldiers is classified as a human rights issue and the United Nations and the UN denounced the practice by passing resolution in 1999.
The most important efforts across the world to fight recruitment of children to become soldiers came through the international treaty on child soldiers, which entered into force and increased the lower age level from fifteen to eighteen (United Nations, 2002). Although the treaty was optional, many countries signed it including African countries thus providing a glimmer of hope. Economic development and emergence of democratic regimes within Africa has contributed to decrease in conflicts.
Many more efforts need to be put in place by African governments to protect the rights of children in their respective countries. Child soldiers have not significantly reduced in Africa proportionately with the efforts made in terms of legislation. This fact suggests that focus should now shift to the issue of reducing conflicts or solving them in ways that are more amicable. Peace and reconciliation for better economic growth rates should be the focus of all African governments. Finally, equitable distribution of resources will go a long way to reduce conflicts in many African countries.
Beah, I. (2008). A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Child Soldiers Edition. (2008). The Advocates for Human Rights. Web.
Gbowee, L. (2011). Child Soldiers, child wives: wound for life. Web.
Singer, W. P. (2006). Children at war. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
United Nations. (2002). Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Web.
Verhey, B. (2001). Child Soldiers Preventing, Demobilizing and Reintegration. Africa Region Working Paper Series. Web.