Atlantic College Peace and Conflict Conference: Child Soldiers Workshop

Vincent Mwadime Mwashumbe (Kenya, UWC AC 2010-12)

On 24th January with the beginning of the Peace and conflict conference, so did the opportunity to educate and raise awareness on child soldiers come in to play. The AC Diploma period took a new dimension on how to engage in peace and conflict resolutions. In thinking about wars and other forms of conflicts, many a time we fail to see the lack of ethics within the army/ terrorists/ guerrilla soldiers. We mainly think of the latest technology in weaponry, the bombing, the destruction and uniformed soldiers. But, contrary to what we expect, the majority of the wars fought today are intrastate conflicts fought with small arms and the cheapest and most obedient soldiers that the uprisings could amalgamate: CHILD SOLDIERS. It has been estimated that there are 300 000 child soldiers in the world today and its spread all over the world, not just in Africa and Asia.” However, it is difficult to be certain because there is often no documentation of their recruitment or even of their existence.  Nevertheless, it is crucial to find an end to this problem as it cripples entire generations of countries.  During the conference we took a scope into the under laying aspects that people need to consider  whilst thinking about child soldiers. The recruitment, the initiation, gender inconsideration and their salvation from the atrocities and trying to reinstate them back into society despite aftermath.

“Most evidence suggests that ordinary children faced with extraordinary circumstances of combat are capable of learning to kill and to kill repeatedly.”

-Michael Wessells on child soldiers: From violence to protection.

 According to the Child Soldiers Global Report in 2008, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers considers a child soldier to be “any person below the age of 18 who is a member of or attached to government armed forces or any other regular or irregular armed force or armed political group, whether or not an armed conflict exists.”

 “Child soldiers, two simple words. But they describe a world of atrocities committed against children and sometimes by children.” 

—“Child Soldiers Global Report 2008” (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers) 

We looked at the methods of recruiting the child soldiers. They include using force, some  of the methods that use force include: making the children Sign up against their will; their kidnapped; guerillas giving village quota with sever consequences if not met e.g. burning the whole village down, lives are threatened (or family). The alternative is when the children are forced by circumstances to volunteer this may include: socio-economic problems, Ideological reasons, protection, revenge.

We used the case study of DRC and Uganda. Forced recruitment and kidnapping are the most common methods used to recruit children in the DRC and in Uganda during the civil wars they experienced. Their freedom and innocence are stolen from them forever as they are forced to commit terrible acts of violence. An analysis of social-psychological theories explains how fear and intimidation effectively change the behavior of children into the behaviors of soldiers.

“Becoming a child soldier is easy; it is much more difficult to regain your humanity afterwards. Nevertheless it is possible”

-Ishmael Beah

Reintegration to society is termed a demanding task. Falling is easy it’s the getting up part that keeps people down. To get around this, countries that formerly had child soldiers have a DDRR policy. That is disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation. This includes the process from the initial intake, living in a home and having education work and psychological support. Afterwards they let them live more independently in residential groups.

 “Is a child still a child when pressing the barrel of a gun to your chest?”

– Romeo Dallaire

We also looked into other intrinsic aspects like the case of Omar Khadr a Canadian citizen (grew up in Canada and Pakistan).His father was very involved with Al-Qaeda. He was captured on July 27, 2002. There was a fire fight in Afghanistan and during which the Americans bombed militia camp. While the American soldiers were closing in to assess the damage done and capture any survivors a grenade was thrown and it blinded one soldier and killed a second. He was shot three times but still survived. This was all before his sixteenth birthday.  He spent seven years in Guantanamo Bay as he was charged as an adult. Later on he pleaded guilty to all the charges and was sentenced to a further 8 years in maximum security.

“In every sense Omar represents the classic child soldier narrative; recruited by unscrupulous groups to undertake actions at the bidding of adults to fight battles they barely understand”

-RadhikaCoomaraswamy

(special Representative of the Secretary-general for Children and armed conflict)

Since this was a nature versus nurture, the possibility of us solving the age old debate in two days was more of zero than slim. And thus having satisfactorily educated the Atlantic college students we ended the workshop.

-United World College Student Magazine-

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