CHILD SOLDIERS – FACT SHEET
According to the latest UN statistics, there are approximately 250,000 boys and girls around the world, who are directly involved in armed conflicts. The charity WAR CHILD claims that girls make up 40 per cent of this number.
While the great majority of these children live in Africa, child soldiers are unwilling combatants in countries as far apart as Burma (Myanmar) and Columbia, in Central America. In all, young people under the age of 18 are actively engaged in wars or rebellions in 24 different countries across the globe. Most of them seem to be between the ages of 9 and 15, although child soldiers as young as 5, are not unknown.
In the rural areas of Central and Eastern Africa, children have been kidnapped from their families, for years. In the killing zones of eastern Congo and Rwanda, whole swathes of villages have been abandoned as families have fled to the towns, in an attempt to protect their children. The same situation existed in many parts of West Africa until quite recently – places like Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Today, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and bordering countries, thousands of children are still being abducted at gun point. They begin a life of slavery, as the hero of this book, Sam Mbali, soon found out.
Years of experience have given the war lords a devastating psychological weapon to use against normal, law-abiding people. These rebel militia leaders deliberately destroy the ties between the potential child soldier and his or her own society. One way of doing this, is to force the child to commit a violent public atrocity, often on a family member or a prominent villager. This makes it impossible for that child ever to return home. When the child has nowhere to go, the abductors will become its new family.
Our own hero Sam Mbali, was luckier than most. Even as he was led away, Sam knew his father was still alive and that as he was a government soldier, his father might be able to rescue him. This gave Sam a lifeline to cling to throughout his ordeal.
Child soldiers are not just used on the front line. They may also serve their masters as porters, labourers, cooks, spies and sometimes even as human shields. But whatever they are made to do, their lives are invariably short and brutal.
Why is there such a high demand for children? Amnesty International reports that both government forces and rebel militias use children to fight their battles. Children are highly valued for a number of reasons:
- They are easily replaced. (Half the population of Africa is under 18.)
- They are easily manipulated because of their emotional immaturity.
- Once brain washed, they are loyal and quick to obey and follow orders.
- They are more enthusiastic than adults.
- They do not need to be paid.
- Their stamina is often superior to adults.
Once the child soldier is trained to handle weapons, he or she is ready for combat. Immediately before the fighting begins, drugs are freely given to the children to start their adrenalin flowing. Crack cocaine and gunpowder, the so-called “brown-brown”, is the most popular combination. Its effect is well documented and turns children into fearless killers. In this story, Captain Simba refers to it admiringly, as “Rocket Fuel”.
As if all this was not enough, many militia leaders also brainwash their children into believing that witchcraft and magic can protect them from enemy bullets. Our self styled, Colonel Dada the Merciful, used to conduct full immersion baptisms before any major skirmish. This magic would turn bullets into water which would then run harmlessly off the children’s bodies. And if the child was later killed or wounded, that was regarded as his own fault for not having sufficient faith in the magical powers of the Colonel.
For those child soldiers who do manage to escape, life is still difficult and very uncertain. People are terrified of child soldiers and have been for years. Their reputation for killing and destruction is known to everyone. Those who were victims of the militias, carry the scars. Returning child soldiers remind everyone of the massacres that took place, the burning of villages and the destruction of whole communities. No one wants them back. So the children drift into the towns and join the ranks of the homeless there. Rehabilitation centres are few and far between but they offer the only foreseeable hope for the future.
Peace is still a very long way off.
Some interesting web sites:
Google – “Child Soldiers” or “Gold Mining in Democratic Republic of Congo”