Posted by: bklunk | March 8, 2007

Today’s Theme is Children

Former Child Soldiers Still at Risk in DRC « International Politics

Recenlty, the United Nations has began to really focus it’s attention on the use of child soldiers in Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are still feeling the terrible effects of war, and is one country that the UN is really focusing on because of it’s use of child soldiers.

In previous blogs, I’ve talked about some of the horrible things that have been occuring in DRC in regards to child soliders. I’ve blogged about how these children are treated, and also how leaders and officials in the country are begining to pay for allowing this to occur. However, a news article from March 7th discusses how even though the UN has taken action, and tried to prevent the use of child soldiers, the fact of the matter is, that even those children that are now “safe” are really still at risk. The article discusses a young girl who was being forced as a sexual slave for one of the militias. This girl actually had the courage and ability to run away from this and is now in a “safer” environment. However, officials of the UN, and the little girl herself, and still worried about militias coming and finding not only this little girl, but other children like her.

As of today, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict in on a week-long visit to DRC to try to gain more information on the use of these children in war, and what is being done not only to protect those children in war, but those who have escaped as well. This UN officials says that he “hopes the Congo’s new army will have no children, and that children in this country will be allowed to have a life with notebooks and pens, rather than guns and grenades.” We can only hope this happens.

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  1. The sad fact that I have found, after researching this subject, is that with the conditions the way they are currently, no real change seems to be eminent. The hope is that conditions will change under the new government that was recently elected, but as the BBC just stated days ago, “despite the peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, the threat of civil war remains.” Four million have died, mostly as a result of widespread disease and malnutrition, and it has been said that nearly 1,000 people are dying every day, allfrom war-related causes.

    The good thing is that the election of the new government has been called a “miracle” by some in the international press, but the consesus is that these new leaders have a lot of work ahead of them to start to undo the damage that has already been done. Hopefully these leaders can help to stabilize the situation in their country, and make sure that these children that have no doubt been damaged by the war can start to focus on living a more normal teenage life, and not be made into soldiers before they even have a chance to have a life and education.

  2. The problem of child soldiers being used in the Democratic Republic of Congo goes beyond the terrible implications it holds for the children presently, and spills over into their future adulthood. The children who escape abuse as soldiers and sex slaves may be moved into “safer” areas, but they cannot leave the memories, nightmares, and trauma that are left behind within them. What will become of these children as they move into their teenage years and adulthood? They are not receiving any treatment for the lifelong mental scars which have been inflicted upon them; how will they learn to cope with what they were put through? And with regards to those children who are never able to run away, are forced to grow up in a violent existence as child soldiers, what will become of them as they mature? The fear is that in ten, fifteen, or twenty years, the DRC’s population will be dominated by some deeply traumatized people and angry, gun-wielding, former child soldiers who are unable to comprehend a life of peace any longer. The horrific problem of using children as soldiers and sex slaves not only has negative implications today, but for many years to come.

  3. I must also concur that although the threat to these children presently is very real and must be dealt with by the UN with support from the international community; I find a deeper problem with the future of these children. What is so horrific about child soldiers (and one of the reasons why I feel that there was support for the International Criminal Court in respect to indicting members of the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony in Uganda when often there is none is because of their use of child soldiers) is that the effects are not felt just now but years into the future. These children have grown up in a history of violence and sexual abuse that will scar their society. It reminds me of the civil wars in Central America where now the children are being pulled into gangs which have created as much violence as that which occurred during the civil wars. The DRC’s commitment should be providing these children with some psychological treatment, but this just might be a pipedream as fighting still goes on and the infrastructure is decimated in the country. Yet this should be at the top of Joseph Kabila’s list of priorities.

  4. Oh, one other comment is that I feel that the best way for Africa to lift itself from poverty and underdevelopment is the education of the children. Regardless of what is said, hatred and violence is not innate but instead taught. What the Democratic Republic of Congo needs and the world is to focus on making the future better by protecting and educating our youth now.

  5. The implications of ‘child soldiers’ are far reaching to say the least. Bringing the children out of war and slavery is only the beginning, it is through education and learning to contribute to society that healing will take place on both larger and smaller scales. A cornerstone of traditional African philosophy is that a person’s essence or identity comes in large part from their contribution to their community. This is why the ‘child soldier’ problem is so wide spread, because the youth are sucked into an environment where there contribution, in this case negative, is affirmed and encouraged. So if the youth can now be put into a positive environment where positive contributions are affirmed a real change may begin to take place. There is no doubt that this is a long road but countries like Liberia, that under Charles Taylor did struggle with the problem of child soldiers, are beginning to make some steps in the right directions.

  6. Two words that should never be uttered together: child soldiers. This concept is sickening to think about in any circumstances. Children should be naive, innocent, joyful, and free…there is absolutely no reason for children to serve as a mini-military. Why is the UN just now looking into this? Isnt there something more meaningful that could be done? Dont these children derve more than an info-gathering trip on the part of the UN? If children who are being blatantly abused by their military and government, are not a top priority for the UN, what is? Any form of child abuse should be intollerable…God help those kids and protect them until someone gets their act together to step in on their behalf!

  7. Child soldiers should never exist. Neither should children have to grow up in a war torn region. I agree with others in saying that the after effects of war and child soldiers can wreak havoc emotionally in children. Any child growing up in a war torn region will have many effects, but child soldiers increases those effects. UN officials should strive to make education the life path for children, but at this point it is difficult to see that happening. Education is crucial for the future of these war torn areas, but what is education without the emotional healing of child soldiers? A combination of education and rehabilitation for children in these regions is necessary. One must also consider the problem that lies in the adults, who use child soldiers. Reform must also be placed on them, in order to eliminate child soldiers. Whether the government or the UN punishes those adults, or there is a reform in the ideas of the people of Congo, adults should not be promoting child soldiers. As education becomes the new mindset, children must be educated to prevent child soldiers as well as war, so that the cycle ends.

  8. I’m don’t think any child is really safe in an area where it is so easy for them to be kidnapped. They are in constant danger of being whisked away into a life that no child should have to go through. There are many dangers for children living in most African countries, and the fact that there has not been a significant improvement in the lives is terrible. The U.N. should have been fighting against child soldiers long ago, and the U.N.’s biggest problem in most situations is that they are slow to respond.
    Child soldiers are doomed for a lifetime of events that no child should go through. The ones that are rescued are emotionally damaged from their experience, and something needs to be done to make sure they don’t become soldiers as adults. Those that are rescued also need to be brought to somewhere that is actually safe–a truly risk free area. This is obviously difficult because so many areas in Africa are unsafe, and I think trying to rellocate so many children is impossible. The U.N. should be working to figure out some way to ensure their safety however. I’m not sure what the solution is to this problem but I know there needs to be more concern from the international community so something actually gets done about it.

  9. Unfortunately as mentioned earlier within other posted comments, this type of military recruitment is not only harmful to the children themselves, but is also extremely detrimental to societies as a whole. As noted by Mr. Olara Otunnu, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, years of schooling are lost and the children grow up to become alienated adults, prone to violence. “Some children are forcibly abducted into government or rebel armies, while others join for ideological reasons or because viable alternatives do not exist, given widespread socio-economic collapse, schools that do not function and the break-up of families; The fighting groups look attractive relative to what there is,” he says.

    Correspondingly according to a report conducted by the “Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, a non-governmental alliance that includes Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, an estimated 300,000 child soldiers, some as young as seven, are actively fighting in 41 countries, with about 120,000 of them in Africa.” “Another 500,000 children worldwide may be in paramilitary organizations.”

    Fortunately though, as many non-governmental agencies and organizations become horrified at the uprising scene of child soldiers, many of them have become more active in campaigning to stop this type of military recruitment and to help “demobilize & rehabilitate those forced to serve.” Ultimately though I believe that in addition to the active participating NGO’s, actors such as the African Union must also step up and be reliable & responsible in helping solve the issue. There also must be an emphasis on the importance of education as well as peace with a focus of realizing that without such notions, the future holds a very scary and foreseen outlook.

    “Today’s warfare in Africa, especially the exploitation, abuse and use of children, is nothing short of a process of self-destruction…. This goes to the very heart of whether or not in large portions of Africa there is a promise of a future for those societies.”

    — Mr. Olara Otunnu, UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict

  10. It is interesting to do research on any subject involving children – even though the topics have become more and more depressing. Many of the previous bloggers have firmly promoted education as the way of lifting Africa out of poverty – through their children! If only it were that simple. It takes extensive amounts of money to build the infrastructure needed for schools, and recently this obstacle is being tackled successfully. The growing problem is that abuse, neglect, and exploitation of children (especially girls) is becoming institutionalized through the growing school system. While the system allows girls into the school program, if they want to stay they must deal with numerous threats and possibly assaults or rape. If poverty, child exploitation and trafficking are to decrease, education is indeed the answer. The dilemma becomes that you cannot allow the system to promote the problems you are trying to solve. The corruption of social systems in parts of Africa is immense, and cannot possibly be fixed overnight – including the child exploitation by the military in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many other changes must occur throughout various social structures before this particular problem will be eliminated.

  11. I agree with you 100%.
    Children should never be used in military forces anywhere or anytime. But is hard to enforce this in third world countries like Congo where many of these children are serving in guerrilla military units. It makes me sick just thinking about young children fighting wars which they should not be a part of. I would be horrible fighting against them, I mean killing innocent children even though they are armed and trained to kill you. But these children are have their innicense stripped from them at the costs of their lives for a fight that they should not fight for and probably are so brainwashed that they believe that they have to.
    I agree with the UN trying to help these children but it will be very hard to stop it though because there are so many of them and you really just can not go in a take them without military force against you.

  12. It is hard for me to conceive a military force of children. I understand that they are being kidnapped and brainwashed into service but the logistics of a small child being in such a role are overwhelming. I look out the window to see children running and playing and doing everything that is the exact opposite of what they are told. A well disciplined and fear stricken children based military is a formidable foe indeed. The UN is doing the right thing by stepping in and trying to stop the horror these children face each day of their lives. As you said, even those who are “safe” aren’t really safe at all. The UN and the entire international community needs to band together, put adult soldiers on the ground and help protect the children. I can not imagine what this generation would look like if nothing were to be done to stop the militias. I am thankful for the increase in attention to the problem in DRC, but it is a long road ahead. One that I hope the UN is willing to commit to for the sake of our future world.

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