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"Young Blood" : Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone

"Young Blood" : Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone

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Published by Felicity Tan

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Felicity Tan on May 18, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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08/17/2009

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“Young Blood”
CHILD SOLDIERS IN CONTEMPORARY WARFARE
based onArmies of the Young, by David M RosenandChildren at War, by P W SingerbyTAN, Marian FelicityHI 307Prof. Nolan29 November 2007
 
On January 2, 2002, Sgt. Nathan Ross Chapman, the first U.S. casualty in the war onterror, was killed in an ambush by a 14-year-old Afghan boy. This boy is not alone; an estimated300,000 children are active combatants in wars currently being waged around the world, andanother half-million serve in armed forces presently at peace.
1
But the use of children ascombatants is hardly a new concept. Whether one considers their presence an aberration or notunusual in warfare, child soldiers have played active combatant roles throughout history,including during the American Revolution and Civil War, as well as in the first and second worldwars. It is in the last 20 years, however, that their numbers have surged to ten percent of allcombatants worldwide, up from near-zero just a few decades ago.
2
This change in the face of warfare to that of a child’s is most likely caused by a change in its very nature. Karl vonClausewitz wrote: “Politics is the womb in which war develops.”
3
This held true for most of history, but the collapse of colonialism in the second half of the 20
th
century ushered in a crisis of failed states where political ideology has become irrelevant. And despite evidence of preexistingcultures of youth violence, it is the amoral vacuum created by the  breakdown in post-colonialstates that has generated a fertile breeding ground for the child soldier phenomenon.Sierra Leone is generally accepted as the epicenter of the child soldier phenomenon. The poorest country in Africa, it was embroiled in civil war from 1991-2001 and is barely recoveringtoday. The actual number of child soldiers who served in the ten-year war is disputed; estimatesrange between 5,000 and 10,000 underage combatants fighting on both the government side andthe rebel faction, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). But most studies concur that about 80
1
P.W. Singer,
Children at War 
(Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006), 30-31.
2
Ibid., 30.
3
Ibid., 51.
 
 percent of those who fought in Sierra Leone were between the ages 7 and 14, the age range for about half of the RUF’s manpower base.
4
Anthropologist David M. Rosen thinks the numbers,though shocking, are not indicative of an unprecedented crisis. In
 Armies of the Young 
, Rosenasserts that warfare is an extension of the pre-war status quo in Sierra Leone where children were“already integrated into an exploitive and violent system.”
5
In other words, he suggests that the presence of children in Sierra Leone’s battlefields is an inevitable result of the country’s cultureand history, and that children are themselves to blame. One will see, however, that Rosen’s proposition is sorely lack ing.Rosen’s thesis is rooted in what he calls the “global politics of age,”
6
which begins witha dispute over the very definition of the term
child soldier.
According to the Cape Town Principles, a child soldier is “any person under 18 years oage who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity.”
7
This definition follows the Straight 18Proposition, a commonly held view that sets the legal age of maturity at 18 in terms of warfare.
8
 But Rosen rightly points out that there is no single, fixed age at which “young people enter into...the rituals of war.”
9
Various groups hold different ideas of childhood, and those notionsshould not be confused with childhood in cultures more familiar to us.
10
The Straight 18Proposition, then, extends the concept of childhood beyond the empirical age limits of growing
4
Singer, Ibid., 15-16. David M. Rosen,
Armies of the Young: Children in War and Terrorism 
(New Jersey: RutgersUniversity Press, 2005), 60.
5
Rosen, Ibid., 90.
6
Ibid., 90.
7
UNICEF,
Cape Town Principles and Best Practice on the Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and on Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child S ldiers in Africa 
, 1997.
8
Rosen, Ibid., 3.
9
Ibid., 4.
10
Ibid., 62.

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