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The Use of Child Soldiers
Children join armed groups in conflict zones for various reasons and by various methods. The different recruitment methods can be described as compulsory, forced and voluntary recruitment. Rebel leaders or commanders often raid villages and abduct children to use them as soldiers and slave laborers. Rebel leaders and recruiters target places where they expect children, often sent there because they were thought to be safe, such as boarding schools and, most commonly, camps for refugees and internally-displaced persons near conflict zones. It is often assumed that children are only recruited forcibly into armed forces and groups, when in fact the conscription, abduction and gang-pressing of children is globally relatively rare, although highest in Africa. Despite the ambiguity of "voluntary" recruitment in contexts of severely constrained choices, there is a complex rationale in a child’s decision to join whether for ideological commitment, self-defense or economic survival. Joining an armed group can also be strongly linked to a child’s personal experience with harassment by the adverse group, loss of home or family members, forced displacement and exile. Much more frequently than ideological motivations, economic survival and social protection play a crucial role. For children living in conflict zones, becoming a combatant rather than victim of the violent conflict surrounding them, ensures they are fed and provided with a measure of protection through possession of a gun and belonging to a community. The longer a conflict endures, the more likely child recruitment usually takes place. This is partly because armed groups run out of adult soldiers, but mainly because there are few incentives that might cause children to refrain from joining armed groups, such as alternative educational or economic opportunities and intact families and communities. About half the ongoing wars in the world are entering their second generation of prospective fighters. In such extended conflicts, children have grown up surrounded by violence and often see it as a permanent way of life. In many intrastate conflicts, both parties engage in child recruitment. A study by the Ford Institute for Human Security at the University of Pittsburgh concludes that in most cases government and rebel forces recruited the same ratio of child soldiers, except in Uganda where rebel forces recruited disproportionately more children and in Mozambique where the opposite was the case.
Recruiting children to serve in their ranks proves beneficial for commanders, among whom children are seen as cheap, effective and obedient fighters. They are plentiful, hence expendable, and easy to impress. This cannot be described as anything less than part of a war strategy. Military and rebel leaders view children as a resource to be exploited. There have been media reports of civilians and soldiers fearing child soldiers more than adult ones, and that in some African regions the public believes children to possess magical /extraordinary powers. In any case, many sources report of the prevalent fearlessness of children in battle and of atrocities committed by children. According to the Machel Report of 1996, the youngest children “rarely appreciate the perils they face. A number of case studies report that when the shelling starts the children get overexcited and forget to take cover. Some commanders deliberately exploit such fearlessness, even plying them with alcohol or drugs.” A soldier in Myanmar recalls his experience with child soldiers in battle: “There were a lot of boys rushing into the field screaming like banshees. It seemed like they were immortal, or impervious, or something, because we shot at them but they just kept coming.”
Small Arms Proliferation
The proliferation of small arms, such as handguns, light machine guns, revolvers and rifles has contributed significantly to the use of child soldiers. The widespread availability of these weapons is an important factor that enables children to participate as combatants in armed conflict. Small arms are lightweight, they therefore undo the disadvantage of children’s lack of strength. Especially firearms and guns are also cheap and easy to use. This problem is aggravated by the uncontrolled trade in small arms, with some 640 million small arms and lights weapons in circulation around the world, according to a 2003 briefing paper by the Human Security Network. Weapons availability can intensify and prolong violence and undermine the rule of law. According to the Small Arms Survey
child soldier rates are consistently comparatively low. “Where there is an abundance of small arms in today’s wars. Girls pursue all of these activities as well. Amnesty International reports of girl soldiers given away as rewards to successful commanders. suicide bombers and commanders. They are by no means the safe havens they are believed and supposed to be. Such practices often continue once the child has joined the armed group and is serving in it. because they might be disadvantaged in fighting trained adult soldiers. Where children are well protected in camps. guard duties. infantry shock troops. Children in refugee camps can also turn into voluntary recruits for armed groups due to shortage of food and lack of meaningful activities for children in the camps. research conducted by the Ford Institute for Human Security at the University of Pittsburgh suggests that neither of these two explain the significant variations of child soldier rates across African countries and conflicts. joining an armed group seems like the most attractive option. hunting and looting for food. acting as domestic workers. there are armed children: whether suicide bombers in Sri Lanka. in addition to being used for sex and as commanders or rebel leaders’ wives. often carrying extremely heavy loads. Although poverty and orphan rates are often claimed to be the main causes for child soldiering. lack of opportunity. Root Causes The root causes of child soldiering can be found in such factors as poverty. like leading near-suicidal "human wave" attacks and the clearing of mine fields. guerrillas in Colombia. These camps are often located close to conflict zones and are not provided with the necessary protection. cooks and porters. These displays and impositions of acts of violence also desensitize the child to suffering. While girls have historically played support roles within armed forces and groups. The research findings revealed that child recruitment is linked to the degree of protection of a predominant child population in refugee sites and camps for internally-displaced persons. An alternative explanation thereof is the protection of internally-displaced persons and refugee camps. especially when the child stays with the group for long periods of time. and punishments.2002.” Children’s Lives in Armed Groups Child soldiers assume a number of different duties within armed forces and groups. On the contrary. many do actively engage in hostilities as combatants. in order to break established ties and make it seemingly impossible for the child to ever return to his or her community. by Dana Landau . soldiers in Myanmar. and of course as raiders. or militia in Sierra Leone. of other soldiers and child soldiers are also assigned to children to perform. Some groups have used the tactics of killing members of a child’s family or community in front of the child’s eyes or even forcing it to commit atrocities to persons from its close environment. high orphan rates and displacement. deployment at lookouts and as messengers and spies. violence and death. including executions. Girl soldiers often share the duties of their male counterparts. and even commanders. Children are often given the most dangerous tasks. an armed group can become their family. To the child soldier. which can be extremely dangerous. household duties. To some of these children. An important measure to ensure an end to forced child recruitment in Africa would therefore be the posting of large numbers of suitably armed troops to guard IDP and refugee camps against raids by warring factions. and are also often used to target civilians. this is statistically not proven. These range from serving as porters.
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