One of the most alarming trends across the globe in the past few years has been the increased participation of children in armed conflicts as soldiers. According to a report by the United Nations, the exploitation of children and involvement in armed conflict is an issue that must come to an end. The report states that the increased involvement of children in armed conflict as soldiers is created by adults, which implies that it can only be eradicated by adults (“Children at Both Ends of the Gun” par, 2). As children have been increasingly exploited to participate in war as soldiers, there is an ever-growing need for an international campaign to demobilize child soldiers and stop their use in such conflicts. One of the major ways to stop this trend is for governments to denounce the practice of forced recruitment, which constantly put children in armed conflicts against their will and wishes.
The Development of Child Soldiers:
As previously mentioned, the emergence of child soldiers is a problem created by adults who exploit them and force them to engage in armed conflict against their wishes. Notably, the concept of child soldiers is not a new concept because children have conventionally served in armies by playing supporting roles as messengers, cooks, spies, and porters. However, in the past few years, adults have increasingly conscripted children as soldiers intentionally. Currently, children below 15 years are serving in governments or rebel forces in nearly 25 conflict zones across the globe. It’s estimated that approximately 200,000 children below 16 years participated in armed conflict in 1988. Nonetheless, child soldiers are usually statistically invisible since governments and the rebel groups or opposition forces downplay or reject their involvement or participation in the armed conflicts.
The increase in the number of child soldiers has primarily been fueled by changes brought by technological advancements to the modern society. These changes have contributed to the development of lightweight and easy to fire weapons that makes it easy for children to be armed with minimal training than ever before. The second major factor is the tendency of child soldiers to be more obedient, which makes them easy to exploit than adult soldiers because they do not question orders. Finally, the development and increase in the numbers of child soldiers has been fueled by the fact that these young individuals do not demand payment for their involvement in the armed conflicts.
The development of child soldiers is characterized by press-ganging these individuals from their own neighborhoods where local leaders or militia may be forced to meet recruitment targets. For instance, children as young as 12 years were rounded up from cars and buses in Sudan while others were kidnapped from streets, parties, and homes in Guatemala. After recruitment, the children are usually intentionally brutalized as a means to harden them into increasingly ruthless soldiers. The brutalization sometimes involves forcing the children to commit atrocities against their own family members and relatives. On the contrary, these children are sometimes given tranquilizers, amphetamines, and other drugs before the engage in battle. The drugs are used as a means to increase their courage and to impair their sensitivity to pain (“Children at Both Ends of the Gun” par, 8).
Notably, the development of child soldiers is sometimes not influenced by adults but by the children’s attempts to simply survive. This particularly happens when children are growing in war-ravaged societies or lands where nearly everything has been destroyed including schools and fields. As a result, these children become soldiers because the gun seems to be an attractive alternative to staying at home alone and afraid. In some situations, the payment for the child soldier is directly given to his/her family.
Case Studies on Child Soldiers:
In the past 30 years, there has been a series of 24 case-studies on child soldiers that cover armed conflicts that have occurred during this period. The case studies are clear indication that hundreds of thousands of children have been recruited into several armies across the world. The most alarming aspect of these case studies is that some children have been exploited and forced to participate in armed conflicts when they are as young as 10 years. These series of case studies in the past three decades have been reported in various parts across the globe ranging from some parts in Africa to others in Asia.
In Liberia, children at the age of 7 years have been found to have participated in armed conflicts while another survey in Cambodia indicated that 20% of wounded soldiers were between 10 and 14 years at the time they were recruited to participate in the armed conflict. In Sri Lanka, more than 50% of Tamil Tiger guerillas who were killed in one government attack were in their teen years and 128 were young girls. These case studies do not reflect the entire picture of children’s participation in armed conflict as soldiers. Actually, solid statistics are difficult to obtain because many armies and militia constantly reject or downplay their use of children in conflicts.
Case Study on a Child Soldier:
The plight of child soldier can be clearly understood and explained by an analysis of a case of a child soldier. While armies and militias try to conceal the realities and challenges child soldiers experience as they participate in conflicts, there are several former child soldiers across the globe who have lived to tell their stories. These ex-child soldiers have reported their traumatic experiences after escaping from the armies and militias where they were forced to commit atrocities or engage in battle. An example of a story or case study on a child soldier is the story of Emmanuel Jal who has won global acclaim for his unique style of hip hop with the message of peace and reconciliation following his experiences as a child soldier in Sudan (“Biography” par, 1). Jal is an example of a person whose life transformed in an instant when a well-wisher freed him from a world of war, trauma, and violence. Following his liberation from that world, Emmanuel Jal has developed to become an internationally renowned musician. The pivotal moment that transformed Jal’s life was when he was rescued by Emma McCune, a British aid worker.
Summary of the Case:
Emmanuel Jal was a 7-year-old Sudanese boy who lived in a small village in the mid-1980s. Following the killing of his mother, his father, Simon rose to become an influential commander in Sudan Liberation Army, a Christian armed force that was fighting for the Sudan’s freedom. He was soon recruited into that force as one of the 10,000 child soldiers who battled through the two distinct civil wars for more than 10 years. Jal was taken from his family home in 1987 and sent to participate in the armed conflict against the rebel army in the nation’s bloody civil war. For approximately five years, Emmanuel Jal was a child warrior who was forced to carry an AK-47 that was taller than him.
By the time he became a teenager, Jal was a veteran of two civil battles and had witnessed several fellow child soldiers lessened to taking unmentionable ways as they battled to survive Southern Sudan’s killing fields. He lived through the horror and trauma of the two civil wars as an orphan and being adrift. One of the horrifying experiences of Jal was marching through the desert towards Ethiopia where he witnessed deaths of family members and friends as well as passing dry bones of children and adults who fell on the journey. He also killed civilians and soldiers using a gun that he could barely carry because it was heavy and taller than him. Furthermore, Jal starved to the extent of near-cannibalism and came to the point he contemplated committing suicide.
The turning point in Jal’s life is when he was rescued by Emma McCune, a British aid worker who smuggled him to Nairobi to bring him up as her own child. The smuggling and adoption helped him to survive the events of the killer fields in Southern Sudan. While in Nairobi, he started the transformation journey that led him to music, which was a means he used to ease the pain of his war experiences. He recorded and produced his own album that became a number one hit in Kenya and was broadcast throughout the continent over the BBC. Since then, he has made several significant achievements including performing in Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in June 2008.
Notably, Jal’s experiences provide an inspiring story as he uses his music to help bring peace to his homeland. Actually, he uses his story for social and emotional learning and to enhance the level of emotional intelligence among young people in today’s society. He argues that his experiences are a form of education and awareness on how history has been described and developed by ancestors (Jal par, 1).
Indicators of Forced Labor:
Before Sudan split into two different countries, the situation was complex but simple at the same time. Generally, the Sudanese government sought to eliminate certain ethnic groups in order to access and manage the land and its resources. As part of initiatives to achieve this objective, the government used faith and religion to expand empathy and provoke communities against each other. This culminated in a long, bitter armed conflict that claimed the lives of approximately 2.5 million people. The attempts by the government to rally communities against each other acted as the first indicator of forced labor. This is primarily because communities would use any available means including child soldiers to fight each other. The bitter armed conflict required the use of the best possible means of war in order to achieve significant victory over rival communities.
The second indicator of forced labor occurred after the onset of the war because of signs of famine and starvation. The communities were characterized with bomb explosions, earthquakes, and screaming and running in different directions for safety. This was indication of forced labor since the people in these regions were forced to look for various means of survival while scampering for safety. The communities’ attempts to find survival means in the increasing terrifying conditions implied that everyone had to participate in the armed conflict.
The third indicator of forced labor was the order by Jal’s father, the Commander for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, that all children should be gathered and taken to school Ethiopia. As thousands of children were taken from their families while their parents became upset, Emmanuel Jal was taken to Ethiopia and away from his family as an example. This order played a crucial factor in forced labor since children were forced to engage in the armed conflict against their wishes. Some of the children were eaten by wild animals, experienced tremendous starvation, and even died because of dehydration. The other children who arrived in Ethiopia were trained to fight for revenge and asked not to raid villages or kill civilians.
Discovery and Investigation of the Case:
As previously mentioned, the discovery of Emmanuel Jal’s situation was made by Emma McCune, a British aid worker who smuggled him to Nairobi and brought him up as her own child. Jal met McCune when he was on a long journey home that brought him to a town called Waat where they met. Upon meeting him, McCune disarmed Jal and smuggled him to Kenya as the first step towards rescuing him. He was smuggled to Nairobi by being hid among bags in a flight to Nairobi. Once in Kenya, the British aid worker put him into school and adopted him as her own child.
However, Jal’s case was never investigated because he grew up in a different environment from the killer fields in Southern Sudan. The fact that he was rescued and smuggled at a time when the situation in his homeland was still terrible made him difficult to investigate the case. Much of what is currently known about him originates from his own story about his experiences. The other reason that probably made it difficult to investigate the case is the death of Emma McCune in a fatal car accident a year after she rescued Jal.
Treatment of Victims:
The armed conflict in Southern Sudan had devastating effects on the nation’s well-being because nearly 90% of the current population lost somebody within their close family during the war. Furthermore, the long, bitter war had enormous effects on children since a child belongs to school rather than the battlefield. One of the major ways in which victims of this war were treated is through burying them. As explained by Jal, surviving children were forced to bury their dead who succumbed to the difficult conditions while on their way to Ethiopia. In another instance, victims were left for the dead or to cater for themselves since soldiers passed them by as they continued with the war.
In conclusion, the increase in the numbers of child soldiers across the globe is an alarming trend that governments should take serious concerted measures to deal with. While armies and militias continue to downplay or reject recruiting child soldiers in armed conflicts, the plight of child soldiers continues to deteriorate. Emmanuel Jal’s story is an example of a case that demonstrates the plight of child soldiers in lights of the horrifying and traumatic experiences they undergo when engaging in armed conflicts.
“Biography.” Emmanuel Jal. Emmanuel Jal, 2008. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.Â .
“Children at Both Ends of the Gun.” Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. UNICEF, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.Â .
Jal, Emmanuel. “Sharing My Story.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 Dec. 2012. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.Â .
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