Paul Ndiho on Child Soldiers in Africa

Child soldiers in Africa ” Media trailer”

The plight of child soldiers, especially in Africa, has captured world attention through news reports and personal accounts. Last year, Ishmael Beah’s book, A Long Way Gone, about his experiences in Sierra Leone, was a bestseller. Now my documentary “Child Soldiers in Africa” explores the psychological and social face of the problem, by telling the true stories of some young victims kidnapped by a rebel force.
In the Documentary, I try to assess the extent of the military recruitment of African children and their use as soldiers in armed conflict. In particular, the documentary provides details of national legislation governing recruitment into the armed forces, national recruitment practice (which, sadly, does not always conform to the prevailing legislation), and, where armed conflict is ongoing, the extent of child participation in hostilities, whether as part of government armed forces, government-sponsored armed groups or militia, or non-governmental armed groups or militia. It also includes basic demographic data and information on the estimated size of governmental armed forces and non-governmental armed groups.
An attempt has been made to include relevant and accurate information on the situation in each African country.
More than 120,000 children under 18 years of age are currently participating in armed conflicts across Africa. Some of these children are no more than 7 or 8 years of age. The countries most affected by this problem are: Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda. Furthermore, Ethiopian government forces engaged in an armed conflict against Eritrea, and the clans in Somalia, have both included an unknown, though probably not substantial, number of under-18s in their ranks. In internal armed conflicts in the Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal, on the other hand, there has been little or no recorded use of under-18s by government or armed opposition forces, and there are almost certainly no under-15s participating in hostilities in these three situations.
In addition to the obvious risks to children of participation in armed conflict — which apply equally to adults — children are often at an added disadvantage as combatants. Their immaturity may lead them to take excessive risks — according Herbert Wise, a senior researcher at the Woodraw Wilson Center, a think tank based here in Washington, “[children] make good fighters because they’re young and want to show off. They think it’s all a game, so they’re fearless.” Moreover, and as a result of being widely perceived to be dispensable commodities, “they tend to receive little or no training before being thrust into the front line.”
Children may begin participating in conflict from as young as the age of seven. Some start as porters (carrying food or ammunition) or messengers, others as spies. A rebel commander I interviewed in the Congo in 2000 said, “They’re very good at getting information. You can send them across enemy lines and nobody suspects them [because] they’re so young.” And as soon as they are strong enough to handle an assault rifle or a semi-automatic weapon (normally at 10 years of age), children are used as soldiers. One former child soldier from Uganda stated that: “We spent sleepless nights watching for the enemy. My first role was to carry a torch for grown-up rebels. Later I was shown how to use hand grenades. Barely within a month or so, I was carrying an AK-47 rifle or even a G3.”
When they are not actively engaged in combat, they can often be seen manning checkpoints; adult soldiers can normally be seen standing a further 15 meters behind the barrier so that if bullets start flying, it is the children who are the first victims. And in any given conflict when even a few children are involved as soldiers, all children, civilian or combatant, come under suspicion.
Girls too are used as soldiers, though generally in much smaller numbers than boys. In Liberia, “about one percent of the demobilized child soldiers in 1997 were girls or young women. But many more took part in one form or another in the war. Like many males, females joined one of the factions for their own protection. Unwillingly, they became the girlfriends or wives of rebel leaders or members: ‘wartime women’ is the term they themselves use.
The risks to these girls of sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies are enormous.
Child soldiers, sometimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which they may be forced to take, have too frequently committed all atrocities. In Congo, for example, a journalist from the local television in Uganda claimed that most of the rebels are children not older than 14, who are under the effect of drugs and alcohol. FYI… This video clip is just a movie trailer… Stay tuned for the real documentary.

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