As of June 28, 2012, the State Department’s new list of governments using child soldiers has been released. From South Sudan to Burma, children are being exploited as soldiers despite international pressure to cease such methods. The use of children as soldiers has been documented in at least 14 countries.
The U.S. has attempted to stem this growing problem through numerous bills, including the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits U.S. tax money from aiding governments that use children under 18 in wartime hostilities. Despite this, the law has only been put into effect once in two years. What’s worse, the US has offered waivers allowing countries that use child soldiers to continue to receive military aid.
However, there is hope. On July 3, 2012, at an UN-backed meeting, Somalia – a country that has a long history of enforced recruitment of children – signed an action plan to end the use of child soldiers. As the UN News Centre details, “…the plan involves the Somali Government’s commitment to end and prevent recruitment of children in Somalia’s National Armed Forces; reintegrate all children released from the armed forces with the support of the UN; criminalize the recruitment of children through national legislation; and provide the UN with unimpeded access to military installation to verify the presence of children.” It’s an important step in the right direction, one that will hopefully be seen and felt around the world – especially by the governments that still call children to hostile action.
Human Rights Watch’s 2012 report, “No Place for Children” gives insight into what children must endure at training camps. From grueling physical combat training to witnessing brutal punishments and executions to forced marriage to fighters, training camps such as the one run by al-Shabaab in Somalia are horrific and violate basic human rights. The frontlines are, of course, no better as children are used as “human shields” and suicide bombers. The words of a 10-year-old boy from Mogadishu, who experienced such strife firsthand, perfectly summarizes the terror: “I was with al-Shabaab for three months in 2010…. They wanted to train us to fight and I was afraid. I didn’t want to kill people. I wanted to go back to school and learn.”
MADRE has been doing its part to protect children of war, most notably in Colombia. With the help of our local partner, Taller de Vida, MADRE works to counsel young children who have faced these harrowing experiences, using art therapy and recreational programs.