The Situation for Child Soldiers
by Rashid Peters, a student of I*EARN Sierra Leone
Child soldiers are children under the age of 18 who are forcefully conscripted into fighting forces either of government or rebel groups. These children who show out early muscles are pressured to fight the war of elders. Some, under the age of 10 are even unable to carry (hang) A.K 47 on their shoulder. They are slavishly given Rocket Propel Grenades (RPG's) bombs to tote as a show of hardness on the child's training whether they are willing or not. Sometimes, when these children fail to carry heavy loads because of over-burden, they are shot on the spot. A child who is conscripted and are swift and skilful becomes a hungry lion of the day. These skilled children have no second thought; so can even kill their parents when injected with cocaine and other poisonous drugs. This unsterilized needle and syringe that are used for injection and tearing of the skin to fill in poisonous drugs usually leads them into contracting HIV, STDs and other blood transmitted diseases. Therefore these children are short lived. Mostly, they lack control and discipline in these wild forests with fighting forces. Under age boys and girls; teenage gun-boys are inspired and forced to early sex with women in the 30s and above. With this sexual addiction some turn out to be rappist after the wars and girls do not become satisfied with one man and therefore the spread of HIV and unwanted children that cannot be catered for who later grow up as notorious thieves and gangsters.
In Sierra Leone as a case study even after disarmament these ex-child combatants are far removed from society and not wanting parental care. They are ashamed of coming among their peers and some of them are provoked 'CAW PIKIN' meaning Children Associated with War. Because of the wild life and the trace of drugs in them, most threaten to fire or stab their playmates that are their minors.
Parents usually deny taking their children back home (ashamed, fear provocation / talk about eavesdropping). Even when they return to town, they deny schooling, learning (formal or informal) just decide to live on prostitution.
Child soldiers are more often used to the advantage of the fighting forces because they are unwaged. The enemy forces do not easily notice them because they are very small and sometimes, as well as carrying heavy weapons they do also possess small weapons. For the ones with rebel group, they are brainwashed to believe that the rebel groups they fight for are justified. The child soldiers in the government army who is desperate to seek employment in the military, even though aware of the problems of fighting in war recklessly over-looks such danger . They have come to learn over the years especially in Sierra Leone that even a low-ranking officer (corporal, sergeant ) can commit a 'Coup de tote' and become a president over -night . A child soldier's 'Vaulting ambition becomes ripe enough when the elder soldiers prove inefficient in their duties or fail to produce the desired result such as failure to command a battalion in battle , failing to show leadership qualities, been unskilful , showing sign of cowardice during battle.
The problem of child soldier is not only limited to developing countries. The United Kingdom sends routinely children under the age of 18 into armed conflicts. They have fought and died in both Falkland and gulf war. In the UK in 1998 and 1999, under 18s represented 30 per cent of the total recruitment. US strongly opposes to setting 18 as the minimum age for recruitment: participants and 17 years old soldiers served in US operation in the golf.
These are some of the main problems that child soldiers usually encounter:
The loss of lives
Loss of childhood and innocence
The problem of habitual king and looting
HIV and AIDS: in forceful conscription are conditioned to face the use of unsterilized instrument to brand them as child soldier: further to enhance their recruitment they are been heavily drugged this has long lasting effect in their lives ;
Lack of education and not wanting parental care