One of the most alarming trends connecting children and armed conflicts is the incorporation of young children as soldiers. Children as young as 8 years of age are being forcibly recruited, coerced and induced to become combatants. Manipulated by adults, children are drawn into violence being too young and vulnerable to realize the ethical and moral consequences that are connoted and inability to resist.
Recent researchers sent in Myanmar, where the rates of child soldier recruited have skyrocketed, argue that the children most likely to become soldiers are from impoverished and socially fragmenting backgrounds and suffering from separated away from their families.
A long healing process
Some are conscripted, others are kidnapped, and still others are forced to join armed groups to defend their families. Recruits are seized from their homes, stripped off their lives, or even from schools, when armed militia, police, paramilitiary groups or army cadres roam the streets. Hunger and poverty trigger and lead parents to consider offering or trading their children for service and armies in some cases pay quite extravagant amounts necessary for the family’s wellbeing.
Children become soldiers simply to survive. A military barrack, base, unit can be something of a refuge, serving as a surrogate family. Children may join if they believe that this is the only way to guarantee regular meals, clothing or medical attention.
While children may follow different functions and occupations during their attendance of military service they do very dangerous hindering their health. Reports tell of forces deliberately killing even the youngest children with the excuse of being dangerous. Girls are forced to provide sexual service. While children of both sexes might start out in indirect support functions, it does not take long before they are placed in the heat of the battle, where their inexperience and lack of training leave them particularly vulnerable.
The issue requires a well-coordinated and fully-encompassing solutions.
Refugee and displaced persons camps should be designed to improve security for child soldiers. These child soldiers and tormented souls should be involved in all aspects of camp administration but especially in organizing distribution and security systems. Increased numbers of child personnel should be deployed to the field as protection officers and counsellors.
All humanitarian responses in conflict situations could emphasize the special reproductive needs of women and girls, including access to family planning services, care during pregnancy as a result of rape, sexual mutilation, childbirth at an early age or infection with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Equally important are the psychosocial needs of mothers who have been subjected to gender-based violence and who need help in order to foster the conditions necessary for the healthy development of their children. The treatment of rape as a war crime must be clarified, pursued within military and civilian populations and punished accordingly. Appropriate legal and rehabilitative remedies must be made available to reflect the nature of the crime and its harm.