They always carry a gun that is too heavy and that covers their whole back. They are always drugged with cocaine and cannot tell if it is a tree or an angel or a human that they are shooting. Those who bear this fate cannot stop the gunfire. They are ‘children soldiers’. Do you think these children are killers, a soldier in a war? Often they have been kidnapped, drugged, deprived of their life. What we should do is save these children from this hell, and not give them further pain. Their voices calling for help have been, and still are, clearly echoing around the world. Then why are we not paying attention to their voices? How longer are we going to ignore them? We cannot, and must not anymore.
Child Soldiers are children without any rights
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children functions based on four principles: Non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, the right to life, the right to survival and development, and respect for the views of the child. Children must be guaranteed these four rights. The agreement expresses a clear philosophy and offers guidance to national programs for putting that philosophy into effect. However, the reality of child soldiers puts those conventions at risk. None of these rights are allowed to these child soldiers. They are deprived of even right of life as they are sometimes used ‘bullet bait’ for target practice and the right of development as they are the targets of violence and abuse. Adult soldiers will cut their mouths, ears, and fingers and inflict psychological oppression.
Actual conditions for child soldiers in Uganda
One of those countries that reveal the situation of child soldiers most strikingly is Uganda. Uganda is a nation that is in a civil war which has lasted as the longest civil war in the world. When we ask who is involved in this war, people would say only government forces and antigovernment forces. However, there is one more party clearly involved in this war: the children of Uganda. One notable difference between them and the official participants is that these children lack any free will in this war. They are forced to be in one side involved in the ongoing conflict, which might be the least thing they want to be involved in.
Many children of Uganda have been kidnapped by an antigovernment force named the L.R.A and turned into child soldiers. L.R.A. stands for The Lord’s Resistance Army. This organization is estimated to have nearly three thousands members, and many of them are children. The L.R.A. is even attempting to kidnap children from other African countries across their borders. They turn the girls into prostitutes, boys into soldiers by giving them gigantic guns. One girl who used to be used as a sexual slave of the antigovernment L.R.A. described her terrible memories of being in the army.
“That day back through twelve years, I went to a farm with friends early in the morning. At the dawn still under gray light, me and my friends were suddenly captured by someone before we even able to respond to that strange sound of footsteps. We were dragged away, our mouths covered by somebody’s hands and tied up. Screaming and crying for mom was useless. Just like that, I was taken into the L.R.A. and lived as a sexual slave for ten years until I managed to escape. However during the escape, I was captured again by the L.R.A. They set me on fire and hit me in head with a rock. That is how I got this scar in my head and lost a few fingers to the burns. Every day, my life was spent doing the labor they demand, as they dragged and raped at night, kidnapping girls my age. I had to do it to survive.”
<Northern Uganda Patongoregion, AumaGrace (eighteen years old)>
The L.R.A. has tried to erase the past of children in the L.R.A. They are not afraid of even killing the parents of kidnapped children to erase all memory. Furthermore, they oppress children with fear by shooting children who disobey and leaving them to die. The children kidnapped by L.R.A. are estimated to number at least twenty five thousand. According to Amnesty International, three hundred thousand child soldiers are in activity in the twenty-one trouble spots around the world, including in Colombia, Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia. Uganda is merely one of those countries abusing children by turning them into soldiers. Things that should not be happening, are overtly going on around the world.
Another striking fact is that it is not only antigovernment forces who have gathered child soldiers. Governments have done exactly the same thing. Many nations including India, Indonesia, the Central African Republic, and also Uganda are gathering child soldiers under the name of their government forces. They even used those children to carry out secret killings and never publicly showed them. The representative case of these is the case of Idi Amin, who was the third president of Uganda. He made himself a president-for-life by amending the Constitution for himself. Moreover, he used the forces of the government in torturing and killing civilians. There is no doubt that his nickname, ‘The Black Hitler’ is deserved. He ordered mainly child soldiers to carry out covert murders.
What we can do for children, the red hand campaign
There are so many laws that guarantee the rights of children, including United Nations Conventions of the Rights of children. But do they really help those children forced to be killers in a war? Unfortunately, it is hard to say yes. Conventions such as those related to the rights of children are merely ink printed on paper in these children’s eyes. What can protect these children is nor a gigantic organization, a nation, nor a powerful law. That is rather the power of you and me. It is correct that that influence of a single person is quite small. However, our power is politically free and it can function as a great network to protect children. There is a campaign that is gathering the will of many people: the Red Hand Campaign. The Red Hand campaign is a representative opposition movement to the use of child soldiers. This campaign has declared every February twelfth as ‘Red Hand Day’ and recommends that people around the world send a card that has their red handprint on it to the United Nations. These prints represent each people’s will to oppose the use of a child soldier. This gives the power of huge support to the UN conventions. They also call for the United Nations to wield great power so as to eventually not let any nation to gather child soldiers. This campaign does not ignore the painful voice of children and shows a, interest in them and their future. This movement may gather the power to save those children. Sending one’s own hand print is not a hard thing to do. However, it has a serious meaning. That is: My hand print stands for myself calling out for “No Child Soldiers”. The handprint represents the same power that every single person who sent the print is actually holding and speaking for those people whose hands are tied.
Contents informing the issue
The book is called ‘A Long Way Gone’. This book is a story of a child who used to be a child soldier for government forces. The boy, IsIshmael Beah, is the writer of the book. He was a ordinary boy, born in a peaceful village in Sierra Leone and enjoying listening to hip-hop music. However, his whole life went through a terrible confusion after the outbreak of civil war of his country and he became a child soldier. He was only twelve when he became a soldier. In the book, he describes the life of being a child soldier: being drugged and killing people still drunk, plundering several towns. The book clearly shows the scene of a living hell that many children are still going through. Ishmael is later rescued by UNICEF and then he at once gets the opportunity of living out his life as a true person with every right. He is now an active human rights activist as a children’s rights consultant for Human Rights Watch.
‘The Last King of Scotland’ This movie is about the third president of Uganda, Idi Amin, and is focused on how he abused children as child soldiers.
‘Blood Diamond’ This movie is about the civil war broke out over the ownership of diamond producing region in Sierra Leone, in 1999 This movie depicted the pain of children soldiers abused in this civil war.
Second pain upon these children
What is left behind for child soldier can be a death of two kinds : death in its real meaning or a social death. Social death refers to the social insolation that many child soldiers go through when they are back in society. This happens based on how other people think of those children, which commonly only views child soldiers as dangerous killers. A society may not really consider if a child was forced to kill. In many cases, children often end up killed by the public before even getting a chance to experience a normal life. Concerning this situation, Ishman, who wrote a book about his past as a child soldier stated the reason why he wrote the book during an interview with the Cho-sun Ilbo in 2007.
“I wanted to show that people who used to be a child soldier can return to normal life if they are provided with a quality education.
Furthermore, there still exist children who do not have anywhere to go after escaping from an army. Many girls who have been kidnapped by the army often undergo the second pain of being neglected by society and even by their own families for having a child from rape by L.R.A members. For boys, things are even worse. They are tagged as a ‘killer’, and not as a victim of war. This is the truth. Not are any flowers, or a song of celebration. The second pain is what is waiting for those children when they get out of an army.
The pain of child soldiers is definitely not new. This issue has not just popped up yesterday or last week. Their pain is already overt and clear. The problem is that the issue has been overtly ignored as much as the issue is clearly known around the whole world. The world has united under the high phrase of “Let’s protect Human rights”. However, we should be concerned that this phrase may become meaningless. Let us not put the responsibility of these children on any nation or an international organization or anyone who is not “me”. The times, we used to just sit back and wait for someone else to save those children is over. Or at least it should be over. Stop waiting for the emerge of those heroes, only exist in our expectation, which is so not going to come true if all of us just think “someone else would do it”. That will finally happen when we ourselves become those heroes.< 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >