As a saying goes, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” (George Bernard Shaw). Likewise, the mentality of a child is altered to function like an adult when they are impelled into the environments of war. The child leaves behind their innocent childlike characteristics to become a brutal combatant, as their minds slowly become old when their teddy bears are replaced with guns. Their style of playing will be toying with the lives of their enemies and the addiction of consuming sweets will become sniffing down drugs. Due to the copious amount of complicated difficulties, hundreds and thousands of children in the African continent today are forced into performing brutal acts in return for survival. Thus, no average human in society could comprehend the amount of suffering a child soldier undergoes during their tragic and prolonged service in war.
First and foremost, a child soldier is “Any girl or boy below the age of 18 who is recruited or used by an armed force or armed group, in any capacity” (Scott Hartman). Children as young as 5 years old can be emitted into the battlefield, trained to become a bloodthirsty revanchist. In fact, “A child soldier is not just someone who is involved in the fighting. It includes children recruited and trained for military purposes, but not used in war”. In some cases, children are recruited simply to replace an adult military to defend their country. War may not be currently occurring in their country, but they serve the purpose of fulfilling other military duties. To make matters worse, there are approximately 250,000 child soldiers recruited today in at least twenty countries around the world. To believe that by this point of history the usage of child soldiers would be decreasing, but in reality, “The number of child soldiers…globally has increased 159% within five years…30,000 verified recruitment cases since 2012” (Scott Hartman). Rather there being reductions, cases have been increasing by the thousands, indicating that the military has become more reliant on recruiting child soldiers. As “Records showed that in 2012, 3,159 children were recruited in 12 countries, while in 2017, the number jumped to 8,185 in 15 countries, an increase of 159%. At the same time, sexual violence grew 40%, with 951 incidents verified globally in 2017, up from 679 in 2012” (Anna Varfolomeeva). To add on, “Fifty countries still allow children to be recruited into armed forces…” (Anna Varfolomeeva). Africa hosts the most amount of child soldiers, and with there being 54 countries within, there is a good chance a traveler may encounter a child soldier. These 50 countries generally target children because not only are they easy to suppress, but they also come cheap, sometimes even free. Children learn from their environment and if they are influenced long enough, they will believe that violence is necessary, thus less likely to rebel or question the authorities. Children “…are easier to manipulate, they don’t need much food and they don’t have a highly developed sense of danger” (Anna Varfolomeeva). Due to political and financial instability, government officials or rebels depend on gathering children to fight their battles because of their easy to manipulate minds. Once accepting the brutality of wars, children are forced into many tasks that risk their lives. Thus, with thousands of these children being part of violent acts, there holds an important reason why such children accept the conditions of becoming a soldier.
Children today undertake the role of a soldier not only because they were kidnapped by rebels or the government, but also for the better assurance of their survival. As an article states, “Some children are abducted and beaten into submission, others join military groups to escape poverty, to defend their communities, out of a feeling of revenge or for other reasons” (Dr. Chris Hobbs). The environment they were born into was always poor, with low income and lack of food and housing, joining the army provides them with all the basic living needs. Sometimes their loved ones were murdered, giving them the reason to participate in the war to seek vengeance. Furthermore, “… others are enticed with money, drugs or in other ways. In many cases, children choose to join as a result of economic or social pressures” (Dr. Chris Hobbs). The military not only provides the children with the money they lack but also drugs that promise their happiness. The idea of gaining money, plus the substance that further pushes their contentment, many children see this as a great deal. Once they have joined the army, the children realize that the rewards aren’t easy to reap. Child soldiers interact with various activities that bring immense pain. They are further induced with drugs or perform brutal acts in order to deepen their admiration for violence. Child soldiers take in the jobs of becoming porters or even human shields; activities that require the sacrifice of their lives. They also “… serve as…cooks, guards, messengers or spies…. may be forced to the front lines or sent into minefields ahead of older troops… also been used for suicide missions”. In order to train the children into becoming more valiant, “…part of their training for violence…often subject to grueling physical tasks as well as ideological indoctrination…commanders may initiate child recruits by forcing them to witness or commit abuses and killings in order to desensitize them to violence” (Silva, Harendra). If the child were to avoid or disobey, they would suffer through terrible beatings, equally life-threatening as going to war. “Children accused of the slightest infractions may be subject to extreme physical punishments including beating, whipping, caning, and being chained or tied up with rope for days at a time” (Silva, Harendra). These children grow up being accustomed to the idea that violence is the answer to their problems, this ultimately affects their physical and mental state, making it much more difficult for them to successfully rehabilitate.
Being part of life-risking ventures obviously results in physical injuries. With these wounds becoming scars, it will only be a reminisce of traumatic memories. Once taken under the care of a rehabilitation center, child soldiers would need to let go of their addictions towards violence and revenge. Child soldiers could expect to be inflicted with penetrating injuries from battles or even beatings from their commander. In worse cases, they may receive amputations or lose one of their senses. For instance, “…blast injury to children from landmines. Such blasts leave children without feet or lower limbs, with genital injuries, blindness and deafness”. Such traumatic experiences will ultimately lead to mental illness such as PTSD and tormenting nightmares. As statistics show, “…found that 75 of the child soldiers (52.3%) met the symptom cutoff score for depression, 65 (46.1%) met the score for anxiety, 78 (55.3%) met the criteria for PTSD, 55 (39%) met the criteria for general psychological difficulties, and 88 (62.4%) were functionally impaired.” (Amalfi, Ashley). Child soldiers often arrive at the rehabilitation centers with multiple deep wounds, with the mixed feeling of alert and fear as it is their first time in years that they encountered a normal society. When a child soldier is withdrawn from the army, they are taken to a rehabilitation center where the UNICEF health care workers have them, “…receive a general medical check-up followed by treatment where indicated. In DRC, the centres are designed for a three-month stay, and are often the children’s first contact with normality after their horrific experiences” (Ashley Amalfi). As the child soldier gradually adapts to the new surroundings, they become more passive towards the people and items around them. “While reintegration into the community and establishing their own autonomy are important parts of the children’s rehabilitation, individual counselling is also provided, particularly to those with specific disorders or behavioral issues”. The child also becomes more trusting of the people caring for them, becoming more willing to open up to explain their experiences. From many cases, child soldiers are so easily influenced by the authorities or surroundings, thus the theory that they could considerably be more dangerous than a trained adult has arisen.
As they say, don’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a person by their appearance. As young and feeble as a child soldier may seem, they are the type to kill by sight. They are pressured or come to the belief that the opponents of the war are the reason for their suffering. Not only is the mind of a child easier to manipulate, but these children are also less likely to fight back and more accepting to die due to their circumstances. “Children are also less conscious of danger, and it is harder for them to see the difference between ‘absence’ and ‘death’” (Fogarty Colleen). Child soldiers are less fearful of death and utilize violence without question. Anyone who identifies as their enemy will succumb to their brutality. Also, “Because children are often physically vulnerable, easily intimidated, and susceptible to psychological manipulation…” (Fogarty Colleen). Child soldiers are also easily susceptible to the authorities, as that individual has become their idol. They will follow any order they are given, even if it costs their lives because the child has come to the belief that it’s their duty as a soldier or the requirement for vengeance. As thousands of children are under this bloodthirsty spell, society declines because the children, resembling the future of their country, are not getting the proper childhood they deserve.
Through the use of hundreds of child soldiers within each African country, the future of the countries dulls when the only prospect of a brighter future is not receiving enough education, much less imagination to help improve the country. Families and communities are also broken apart when a child is forced to become a soldier. The war also forces the child to lose their culture and their love for it. As an article states, “Children may lose their community and its culture during the war, sometimes having it reconstituted in refugee or diaspora situations. A certain proportion of war-affected children lose all adult protection – ‘unaccompanied children’…” (Medicinska Naklada). Children are the future of one’s country and if they are being treated with poor surroundings and education, the country would not have hope from growth. With there being child soldiers, they lack the proper morals to understand how to function in society. For instance, “…lose the opportunity for education during war, children who are forced to move into refugee or displaced person camps, where they wait for years…for normal life to resume…child disabled in war… in addition to the loss of a limb, sight, or cognitive capacity, lose the opportunity of schooling and of social life”. Communication becomes difficult for the child as they lose trust within society. Their mental health further prevents them from interacting with the community. Regardless of the thousands of child soldiers that are still roaming about, there are many organizations rising up to prevent any more child soldiers from being recruited.
With society acknowledging that recruiting child soldiers is an inhumane thing to do, many organizations are taking up the responsibility to reduce the number of child soldiers around the world. In an instance, “Launched …the campaign ‘Children, Not Soldiers’ is working to galvanize support to end and prevent recruitment of children by national security forces in conflict. It is particularly focused on Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen…” (Susan Friedman). Campaigns have started and treaties have been signed in order to illegalize the recruitment of children going into war. A few countries have accepted these restraints and reforms. Many organizations are rising up to reduce the number of child soldiers being recruited in various countries, signing contracts and making agreements on preventing the recruiting of child soldiers. For example, “The UN Secretary-General’s 2017 report on children and armed conflict said there had been several positive moves. That included armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Philippines being delisted and the signing of a peace agreement in Colombia that included a special agreement on the release and reintegration of children” (Susan Friedman). Thus, there are movements and organizations that are giving their time to prevent another child from losing their childhood to the battlefield.
To conclude, the thousands of child soldiers that still exist today in the African countries have hope that the future of their country will no longer recruit child soldiers. No future child will not have to go through rehabilitation due to distressing experiences from war. As studies show, for the future years to come, there will be a dramatic reduction in the usage of child soldiers. Children will no longer have to worry about falling into the arms of war due to poverty or political disasters. As long as the rest of the world continues to stand up against the ideology of using children as combatants, it will have a direct influence upon the African countries to stop those actions. Although this world is full of adversities, this gives us the chance to overcome it. Thus, if society learns that recruiting child soldiers is taking one’s freedom away, then we have conquered shunning that hardship.