Foreign Policy Blogs

The Child Soldiers of Africa

21-01.jpgLast week, the NY Times brought the issue of child soldiers to the public’s attention in the hard hitting article, The Prefect Weapon for the Meanest Wars.

Africa has the largest amount of child soldiers, with an estimated 200,000, of the total world estimate of around 300,000 child soldiers. I am of course cynical, and believe all figures to be much higher, however the proportion of child soldiers in Africa is hardly disputable.

It was in the early 1980’s when child warfare seem to hit a new high, but unfortunately it has not decreased in this time, but more than likely increased by substantial percentage. Children have been used in wars since the dawn of time, but the use of children in our time has reached a point where is not becoming more civilized, or safer. Children’s rights have increasingly been ignore and violated, and sadly we mostly sit idly by, allowing young children to strap on riffles and grenades, as they fight a grown mans war.

Why are child soldiers on the increase? The answer is simple, they are easy to manipulate! Children are not only easy to sculpt into the perfect soldiers and killers, in their youth and naivety are reliable due to their ability to become extremely loyal. And unfortunately there are greater numbers of children in our population than adults, thus they are almost seen as disposable, due to their large availability.

Countries in Africa using child soldiers now and in the past include; Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal.

Why are the countries of Africa using child soldiers so heavily, and what makes them different to the use of children in the past? Children where used in the American Civil War, they where used by the Nazis, they have been used in Iran and as I have recently written they are used being in the Middle East. Child soldiers in the Middle East are fueled by religion, independence and political ideology. While in Africa the driving force is greed and power. Child soldiers in Africa are led by brutal regimes and little is being done to stop it. With little to no education, an unstable environment and poverty are all reason as to how a child can be so children are easily manipulated in today’s wars. Weapons are cheap, light weight and easy to use, thus it takes little training or money to get a child ready to fight.

‘One rebel commander declared that: “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‘ (The Use of Child Soldiers in Africa: An Overview Child Participation in Armed Conflict in Africa).

Why should you be concerned about child soldiers in Africa, as you sit safely in the US? First, lets look at the obvious reason, its inhumane and against every principle of human rights to allow this to continue. I know what your thinking, as I’ve been told it so many times before, including just this morning “We have so many of our own problems in America right now, and everyone hates us any way for always getting involved!”. However whether you realize it or not the issue effects you , in more ways than you can imagine. Firstly, lets remember that these children are the future leaders of these countries and if the cycle is not broken it will only continue to breed more war, hate and violence. We must understand these are not wars fought by rebellious teenagers and juvenile delinquents”, these are children who’s lives are stolen from them, there innocence is ripped away through fear and greed.

Okello John, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), said of his initiation: “I did not kill anyone for the first four days of my captivity and then, on the fifth day, they said I had to prove I wasn’t scared, they took me back to my village and ordered me to kill my father. At first, I said no, I can’t kill my father, but then they said they’d kill us all and started beating me with a panga [machete]. I took the panga and cut him up. I then saw them do it to my mother. The first night, I was haunted by visions of my father as I tried to sleep. I could only cry silent tears as the rebels could not know that I regretted what I had done. They do it so that you can’t go back home.” (Uganda: Former child soldiers excluded in adulthood)

Ending the use of child soldiers is no easy feat by any means, but can we afford to sit idly by and watch an entire generation of child grow up thinking this is the way wars are fought? “Above all, we have to take every measure to ensure these children are not returned home to be thrown into combat situations,” said UNICEF representative, Michel Sidibe (UN Finds Congo Child Solders).

Please see my posting on April 4, 007, The True Victims of War; The Child Soldiers of Today, for more information.

USA Support Needed for International Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
Choike – Child Soldiers – In depth Information and Great Links
Human Rights Watch – Child Soldiers
DRC: Child soldier recruitment continues
Child Soldiers 1379 Report
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
World Revolution
The Middle East North Africa (MENA) Regional Network to Stop the Use of Children as Soldiers
Stolen Childhood
Children with Guns
War Child
Optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict
The Child Soldiers Project



Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict