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Child Soldiers and Fiction: Black Panther

Dustin Johnson

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Black Panther.

This is the first post in an ongoing series on the portrayal of child soldiers in works of fiction.

Whether explicitly acknowledge or not, child soldiers commonly appear in works of fiction, some speculative like Black Panther or the Hunger Games, some historical like books on the Second World War. Child soldiers are often portrayed across a spectrum of sometimes conflicting roles, whether as heroes, victims, villains, or children caught up in the events of their world.

Black Panther portrays child soldiers both as victims of adults waging a war, worthy of being saved from their circumstances, and as heroes necessary to the defeat of the movie’s villain.

Early in the movie, T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and known as the Black Panther, attacks a convoy of militants driving through the forest and easily dispatches them. Just as T’Challa is about to kill the last militant, the Wakandan spy Nakia, who had been posing as one of a group of kidnapped girls in one of the trucks, stays his hand, as the final militant was a child soldier kidnapped at the same time as the girls.

The location is specifically identified on screen as Sambisa Forest, an area in northeastern Nigeria that until recently was the stronghold of the very real armed group Boko Haram, infamous for their use of child soldiers and child suicide bombers. The dress of the militants and of the girls they are holding captive, and their use of child soldiers, along with the location, indicates that they are in fact supposed to be Boko Haram.

This scene realistically depicts child soldiers as we often think about them in the real world: children forced or coerced into fighting or carrying out other tasks for an armed group, who deserve a second chance even after they have been given a gun and put into battle. With some useful, if last-minute, intelligence from Nakia, T’Challa is able to avoid killing one of the child soldiers, who can now return home with the kidnapped girls.

It should be noted though that leaving the children to fend for themselves in the forest, rather than first taking them to the appropriate child protection authorities before returning to Wakanda, was probably not in their best interest.

Later in the film, we see a different portrayal of a child soldier, one who is a hero and only fights because of the circumstances she is pressed into. T’Challa’s sister Shuri is a genius who leads Wakanda’s technological development, and is 16 in the movie. During the final battle with Killmonger, the movie’s charismatic villain, she joins the fight with some of her technology, firing on Killmonger before he almost kills her.

These differing portrayals of child soldiers in the film illustrate the complexities of the use of child soldiers in the real world, across different motivations, ages, and roles. Children can be forced or coerced into fighting, but also choose to do so, whether for survival, protection, or supporting a cause. They take on a variety of roles, some involving fighting, some in support. Some are quite young, others are older teenagers, and many view themselves as adults, as Shuri likely does due to her significant responsibilities.

These tropes of child soldiers as either heroes, villains, or victims are quite common in Western literature and cinema. In some works, one or more is used simplistically or uncritically, while in others they are woven together with more nuance. While Black Panther does not dwell on these issues as much as movies they are central to, such as the Hunger Games series, it draws in very real-world scenarios and complexities with Boko Haram, and portraying a very politically engaged and important child who comes to fight through necessity.

Photo from European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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Allons-y Volume 3: Call for Papers on Children and Armed Conflict

When it comes to international peace and security, children are often viewed as an afterthought.

We focus mostly on the geopolitical dimensions of conflicts and crises, the involvement of major powers like the United States, Russia, and China, and the potential of crisis to escalate into major international wars. We ignore how conflict and crisis impacts children and youth, and how they influence these events.

Whether it is the use of child soldiers by most parties to the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the children injured and killed by chemical weapons in Syria, the fifty percent of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who are children, Venezuelan kids growing up hungry, or the fear experienced by their counterparts in Hawaii due to a missile attack false alarm, conflict and crisis has a profound effect on children and youth, harming them and the future of our societies.

All too often children and youth are considered an afterthought, unimportant actors on the global stage—except when viewed as a threat. Despite the Convention on the Rights of the Child being the most ratified human rights treaty in the world – the US alone has not ratified it – issues facing children and youth are seldom considered in peace negotiations, their voices often go unheard in politics and government, and their contributions to and role in the world are underappreciated by academia, governments, businesses, and the general public.

To understand, respond to, and help resolve crisis and conflict, we need a better understanding of all the actors involved, and this includes children and youth. The ways they experience, contribute to, and help to resolve these challenges require exploration and attention, while the voices of children and youth must be listened to and amplified.

Children and youth bring unique perspectives and fresh ideas, and tend not to be as jaded, cynical, or reactionary as their older peers.  Even more importantly, they have a deep desire to feel empowered to address some of the world’s largest challenges. To bring the energy and expertise of youth to questions of children and armed conflict, we at the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative have been publishing an academic journal focused on contributions from authors under 30. Now in its third volume, we are seeking papers from young scholars and practitioners on how the most pressing conflicts and crises, as examined by International Crisis Group last month, impact and are impacted by children and youth.

When published, this volume will pair the work of young scholars with short commentaries by experts in the field, presenting a combination of fresh insights with expert knowledge. In previous volumes we have published papers examining such questions as whether and how we should view children involved in cyberwarfare as child soldiers, and how the traditional involvement of children in cattle raiding in South Sudan was leveraged into a key recruitment method in the current civil war there.

We invite you to contribute to Allons-y by February 26th.

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Case Study: Protecting Education from Attack

In June 2016, the Dallaire Initiative was contacted by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) to discuss the development of a training toolkit to accompany the Safe Schools Declaration. The Dallaire Initiative was then contracted to develop a training toolkit that could be tested and used to educate the military on the Safe Schools Declaration implementation and adherence. As a direct result of the secondment of Mr. Gbow in AMISOM, we were able to have his input into the toolkit and the testing of the toolkit with the AMISOM troops. The final toolkit was officially presented in Buenos Aires in March 2017 and was received on a global scale with overwhelming success.

As part of AMISOM’s work to conduct operations in accordance with the Safe Schools Declaration, on July 11th, 2017, AMISOM handed over, to the Federal Government of Somalia, the Somali National University campus in Mogadishu which had been occupied by the Burundian contingent of AMISOM for the past 10 years. This important step in restoring Somalia’s educational infrastructure was aided by Mr. Gbow’s work on the ground.

Quick5-min

Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

By: Dustin Johnson

Read some of the top stories we are following around the world this week.

UN chief calls Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis ‘catastrophic’ as Security Council condemns violence

In a rare rebuke, the United Nations Security Council has “expressed deep concern” about the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where over 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee across the border to Bangladesh to escape increasing levels of violence.

Source:
CNN, September 13th

Child soldier recruits double in one year in Middle East and North Africa

The number of children recruited to fight in conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa has more than doubled in a year, UN analysis has found. The huge increase in child soldiers in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and other countries follows years of ongoing violence, displacement and a lack of basic services, which has reduced the coping mechanisms of families, according to Unicef.

Source:
The Guardian, September 11th

Mass graves, missing bodies, and mysticism: Inside Congo’s spiralling Kasai conflict

Piles of disturbed earth covered with nettles and weeds hide the mass graves of Nganza, a neighbourhood in Kananga, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai Central region. Children stroll across them barefoot as if they aren’t even there. A ball rolls over from a nearby football match.

Source:
IRIN News, September 12th

Iraq holding 1,400 foreign ‘ISIL wives, children’

Iraqi authorities are holding about 1,400 foreign wives and children of suspected ISILfighters in a camp after government forces expelled the group from one of its last remaining strongholds in Iraq, security and aid officials said.

Source:
Al Jazeera, September 11th

Young Canadian ISIS recruit says he saw violence on scale he could never have imagined

In early 2014, a young Toronto-area man who went by the jihadi nom de guerre “Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi” (Abu Huzaifa the Canadian) cleaned out his bank account and left to join the ranks of ISIS.

Source:
CBC News, September 11th

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Quick5-min

Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

By: Dustin Johnson

Read some of the top stories we are following around the world this week.

Nigeria’s Boko Haram conflict: Huge rise in child ‘human bombs’

There has been a significant increase in the number of children used as human bombs by Boko Haram militants in north-east Nigeria, the United Nations says.

Source:
BBC News, August 22nd

An education in terror

Mutassim is nervous. The 16-year-old has never flown in a plane before. He is looking around at the other passengers waiting at the departure gate in Athens airport.

Source:
BBC News, August

Confidential U.N. report accuses Saudi Coalition of killing hundreds of Yemeni kids

Top U.N. advisor to recommend coalition should be put on the black list of countries that kill and maim children in war.

Source:
Foreign Policy, August 16th

Hungary PM Viktor Orban aims to militarize the school system

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is moving to introduce compulsory military training in schools. It is a grim reminder of the country’s totalitarian past that has raised fears of ‘idealogical indoctrination.’

Source:
Deutsche Welle, August 14th

Researchers find significantly higher rate of mental disorders among first responders

Results from Canada’s first national survey looking at operational stress injuries among first responders such as police, paramedics, firefighters and 911 operators suggest they are much more likely to develop a mental disorder than the general population.

Source:
CBC News, August 30th

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Quick5-min

Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

By: Dustin Johnson

Read some of the top stories we are following around the world this week.

UN sees early warning signs of genocide in CAR

Renewed clashes in the Central African Republic (CAR) are early warning signs of genocide, the UN aid chief said on Monday, calling for more troops and police to beef up the UN peacekeeping mission in the strife-torn country.

Source:
Al Jazeera, August 7th

Somali children flee Al-Shabab recruitment

More than 100 children fleeing areas controlled by al-Shabab militants in central Somalia have arrived in the coastal town of Adale, seeking the government’s protection, officials said.

Source:
Voice of America, August 7th

South Sudan army captures main rebel base, rebels say

South Sudan’s army has captured the main rebel stronghold of Pagak near the Ethiopian border, forcing thousands of people to flee, the rebels said on Monday.

Source:
Reuters, August 7th

South Sudan: Deployment of UN-mandated regional protection force begins

The phased deployment in South Sudan of the United Nations-authorized regional protection force has begun, freeing existing peacekeepers to extend their presence to conflict-affected areas beyond the capital, Juba.

Source:
UN News Centre, August 8th

UN Syria investigator quits over concern about Russian obstruction

Obstructions placed in the way of Syrian war crimes prosecutions by the United Nations and Russia contributed to the decision of Carla Del Ponte, a renowned war crimes prosecutor, to resign as one of three members of a UN commission of inquiry.

Source:
The Guardian, August 7th

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Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

By: Dustin Johnson

Read some of the top stories we are following around the world this week.

Army of bewitched children is target of Congo massacres -UN

A militia group blamed for atrocities in Congo is largely composed of children, while a militia formed to defeat it is suspected of a campaign of ethnically based massacres and rapes, U.N. investigators said on Friday.

Source:
Reuters, August 4th

Prospects for peace in South Sudan

Late last week, US Deputy Ambassador Michele Sison stood before the UN Security Council and renewed calls for the implementation of a 2015 peace agreement in South Sudan.

Source:
Political Violence at a Glance, July 31st

‘There are many other kids here’: Child tells of labor in Syria

The economic strain of Syria’s six-year civil war has encouraged hidden forms of child labor, as an increasing number of youngsters take up work in dim factory buildings, dusty workshops and in the dingy backrooms of Damascene cafes.

Source:
News Deeply, July 24th

Thousands of Syrian children in Jordan’s Za’atari camp missing out on education

Thousands of Syrian refugee children in Jordan are missing out on an education despite the provision last year of 75,000 new school places to cater for them.

Source:
The Guardian, July 29th

The makings of feminist foreign aid

A small trend is emerging to bring a feminist approach to international affairs. This is good. But what does it mean?

Source:
Oxfam America, July 31st

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Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

By: Dustin Johnson

Read some of the top stories we are following around the world this week.

What should Europe do with the children of ISIS?

The 9-year-old boy didn’t like school. He didn’t like the other children, because he knew what they really were: evil unbelievers who deserved to die. So he did what he was trained to do — he attacked them. He was removed from the building on his first day back.

Source:
New York Times, July 23rd

Freed from ISIS, Yazidi women return in ‘severe shock’

The 16-year-old lies on her side on a mattress on the floor, unable to hold up her head. Her uncle props her up to drink water, but she can barely swallow. Her voice is so weak, he places his ear directly over her mouth to hear her.

Source:
The New York Times, July 27th

‘If you are old enough to carry a gun, you are old enough to be a soldier’

David Zelu, not yet 16 years old, looks up, smiles, and stretches his arms to the sky where the sun is finally breaking through the clouds.

Source:
The Guardian, July 24th

Escaping Boko Haram: The mother who hid her child in a ditch for nine months

When she heard reports that Boko Haram was approaching her home town three years ago, Zainabeu Hamayaji had to think quickly.

Source:
The Irish Times, July 22nd

Children pay high price in fight to take Raqqa from ISIS

Seven weeks into US-backed operations to capture Raqqa from so-called Islamic State (ISIS), more than 100 children are among the many civilians reported killed by heavy Coalition airstrikes and artillery fire targeting the city – as well as in actions by proxy SDF forces on the ground, and from attacks by ISIS itself.

Source:
Airwars, July 28th

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Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

By: Dustin Johnson

Read some of the top stories we are following around the world this week.

As CAR peace deal unravels, uncertainty looms for thousands of child soldiers

The ancient gilded room of a Catholic community group in Rome was perhaps an unlikely setting for a crucial meeting on the Central African Republic (CAR). But this June, representatives from the Central African government and 13 armed groups gathered in the headquarters of the Saint’ Egidio peace group where they signed a peace accord.

Source:
African Arguments, July 13th

Orphans of Isis emerge from rubble of battle to face angry, vengeful troops

Caked in dust, dazed and emaciated, the two young sons of an Isis foreign fighter squatted in the rubble beside their injured father, silent, staring listlessly into the middle distance as they waited to learn their fate.

Source:
The Times, July 19th

In South Sudan, a child soldier long thought dead comes back

She had no body to bury, so the grieving mother kneeled in the dirt outside her small hut, recited psalms and simply traced her finger over the uneven earth.

Source:
AP, July 21st

Lord’s Resistance Army increasingly active, UN warns

The United Nations is warning of increasing activity by an African rebel group led by one of the world’s most wanted men after the United States and Uganda recently gave up their pursuit.

Source:
Bloomberg, July 13th

UN warned not to whitewash ‘grave violations against children’ in Yemen

Charities have urged the UN to name and shame the Saudi-led coalition over child rights violations in Yemen after research showed more than 120 children were killed or maimed in airstrikes by the alliance last year.

Source:
The Guardian, July 20th

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Quick5-min

Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News

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