Child Soldiers in Africa Part I

Child Soldiers in Africa Part I

“Child soldier”: The word makes one imagine a young African boy with a Kalashnikov spreading death and destruction. But is this a correct picture if we take a look at the facts? Is it only in Africa that we find child soldiers, or are they found in armed conflicts on other continents as well? And are all these kids really wild killing machines?

  • What is a child soldier?
  • How big is the problem?
  • How are child soldiers recruited?
  • Is it possible to solve the problem?

This article will try to answer the questions above and clear up common misunderstandings about the problem. It will clarify the phenomenon of child soldiers and similar problems, but also look at measures that have been implemented to give these children a better future.

2: What is a child soldier?

To define what a child soldier is, we must first know what a child is. Here we come across the first problem: The definition of childhood is culturally conditioned and varies from society to society. Most developed countries see a person under 18 as a child. In many developing countries, on the other hand, a person is no longer seen as a child if he or she performs adult work or has been through a manhood ritual or similar for girls when they are incorporated into women’s values.

This shows how cultural phenomena, traditions and social roles in developing countries lead to children being considered adults when they reach the age of 14-15. In other words, a 15-year-old who joins an armed group can be perceived as a young adult in his own society. In developed countries, on the other hand, he will be seen as a child soldier.

A child soldier is often perceived as a violent member of an organization that takes an active part in an armed conflict . However, the term refers not only to uniformed people requesting weapons, but also to people with very different roles in armed groups. Examples of such can be children who are brought in as cooks, companions, bearers, babysitters, sex slaves, bodyguards, spies, miners and workers. Children are assigned to such tasks in a wide range of armed groups – from insurgents to government forces. When such facts are taken into account, we get a more comprehensive picture of what a child soldier is.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) puts it this way: “a child soldier is a child – boy or girl – under the age of 18 who has been forcibly, forcibly or voluntarily recruited or used in combat by armed forces, semi-military, civilian defense forces or other such groups. Child soldiers are forced to perform sexual services, to take part in armed conflict and to serve as messengers, bearers and cooks. Most are young people, but many are no more than ten years old or even younger. Most of them are boys, but a significant proportion of them are girls. ”

3: How extensive is the problem?

In recent years, more and more child soldiers have become involved in warfare. This is partly due to the fact that conflicts have changed character – among other things, the irregular elements have increased (non-governmental small groups partly with criminal activities). A flourishing illegal trade in light handguns has enabled children to act as effective combatants. In addition, the availability of light weapons – which are easy to maintain and use – has contributed to child soldiers becoming more violent and destructive.

The combination of poverty, discrimination and vulnerability makes children an easy prey for armed groups in search of new recruits. Not unexpectedly, this creates a vicious circle of insecurity and violence that prolongs suffering and prevents post-conflict reconstruction. By using children as warriors, the armed groups multiply their military force. The use of child soldiers also means that rebel groups can grow larger and cover their constant need for force building.

This means that rebel groups can quickly get over a relatively weak starting point with the help of child soldiers. Another reason why such groups are targeting children is that it does not require such a large investment to recruit, train and arm them. A third reason why children are increasingly exposed to this is the very profitable small arms industry and their weapons that have made it possible to make children effective warriors.

An example of a rebel group that gained multiple strength in this way is the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, a country located in Africa according to This army started small with a core group of around 200 members, but quickly became an army of 14,000 soldiers as soon as they had started recruiting child soldiers.

The existence of child soldiers is seen as disgusting. It challenges our most basic notions of being human, of children and of good and evil. Most people believe that children have nothing to do in armed groups, and that they have a right to be protected by adults and society. This view is enshrined in worldwide legislation and is enshrined in international conventions (agreements).

The United Nations (UN), for example, has decided that no one under the age of 18 should be able to take part in war, and likewise prohibits all recruitment to armed groups outside state control. Although these principles are widely recognized, they are broken daily in the real world. Child soldiers have been involved in wars all over the world, and both government forces and rebel groups have used them to increase their effectiveness. And despite the widespread perception that child soldiers are a typical African phenomenon, children have taken part in at least 27 conflicts in Africa, America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East over the past ten years.

This clearly illustrates the global spread of the problem. The phenomenon of child soldiers has not arisen in the wake of globalization either; it is as old as the human race itself, but is still going on today. The UN estimates that around 250,000 child soldiers are participating in conflicts around the world today. About 40 percent of them are girls. But no exact number can be found; the number varies as conflicts flare up or subside.

4: Child soldiers: victims or perpetrators?

In the international community, child soldiers are often portrayed as victims of adults who exploit children. However, it is a one-sided presentation of the problem. Children are then portrayed as more pediatrician than they actually are. It is therefore important to know that children are also actors with a strong sense of power and action, who sometimes also take the lead in political actions and in social contexts. This indicates that some children choose to join an armed group voluntarily.

Thus, it is wrong to see these as mere victims. In this way, there is a clear distinction between child soldiers who have been threatened by adults and forced to become soldiers, and child soldiers who have voluntarily joined an armed group and who see the use of force as a way to achieve respect, social justice or political and economic benefits. The idea that child soldiers are either emotionally devastated victims or predator-like killers is oversimplified and unsustainable.

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