Children Of War
By Meera Selva
18 November 2004
than 100,000 children have been abducted, tortured and sexually abused
before being recruited to fight in Africa's long-running civil wars
in the past three years, a report revealed.
Teenage boys and
girls forced to join militias are being subjected to psychological torture
so that they can be indoctrinated.
The Democratic Republic
of Congo has more than 30,000 child soldiers fighting in militias and
acting as bodyguards for government army commanders. Girls are also
kidnapped and gang-raped by soldiers using them as entertainment and
rewards for bravery.
The country is part
of the Great Lakes region of Africa, the global epicentre of child warfare,
where a total of 50,000 children have been used by armed groups to win
power struggles in their own and neighbouring countries.
Martin was abducted
aged 13 by the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which has fought
an 18-year guerrilla war against the Ugandan government. "Early
on, when my brothers and I were captured, the LRA explained to us that
all five brothers couldn't serve in the LRA because we would not perform
well," he said. "So they tied up my two younger brothers and
invited us to watch. Then they beat them with sticks until two of them
died. They told us it would give us strength to fight. My youngest brother
was nine years old."
The Coalition to
Stop the Use of Child Soldiers described some of the tactics used in
the world's most brutal conflicts in its report, released yesterday.
Geoffrey Oyat of
Save the Children, part of the coalition, said: "Children are forced
to go through orchestrated events that turn them from victims to perpetrators,
and make them feel they have no option but to join the militias."
A girl kidnapped
at the age of 13 by militias in Burundi told interviewers: "They
would eat and drink, then they would call for you. They were so many.
It was so painful. If you refused, they used sticks to whip you. They
all had sex with me. A man would come, then another and another. I wasn't
Militias and government
troops in Sudan have also used children to fight their internal conflicts.
The coalition said children as young as 14 had been recruited into the
government militias of the Local Defence Forces, in Rwanda, even though
the Rwandan government denies using children as soldiers.
Napolean Adok, who
was recruited as a child soldier with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation
Army (SPLA) to fight in southern Sudan's 21-year war against the government,
said: "In long-running civil wars, groups run out of manpower.
All the adult men get killed. No wonder they need children. In Sudan,
there are no street children even though the country is so poor. On
the pretext of reforming them, the government recruits them as child
The influx of light
ammunition into Africa has boosted child recruitment, the report says.
"Let's face it, small guns are perfect for small hands," said
Tony Tate, the children's rights director at Human Rights Watch. "If
we sent light ammunition to these countries, they will be used by children."
Some countries had
run demobilisation programmes for children, the report said, but many
teenagers found it hard to fit back into normal society. Girls who had
been abducted by militias were particularly vulnerable because they
were often shunned by their families if they had been raped and become
Mr Adok, the former
SPLA fighter, said: "For child soldiers, something that looked
like a toy became a killing machine. Even after a war ends, former child
soldiers remain a social landmine. They cannot fit into society and
often end up joining some other militia."
Child soldiers have
been used to fight wars in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Pakistan. In the
Middle East, Palestinian groups have accepted children as suicide bombers.
The United States was also criticised by the coalition for detaining
16 and 17-year-olds in Guantanamo Bay as "enemy combatants".
The plight of child
soldiers was as bad as it was three years ago, despite the fact that
the UN had introduced a protocol in 2002 to end the recruitment of children.
So far, 115 countries have signed up, but many, especially in Asia and
Africa, have violated the agreements. Countries can legally be tried
for using soldiers under the age of 15 through the International Criminal
Court, but none have yet been prosecuted.
The coalition called
on the UN Security Council, which meets in Nairobi this week, to apply
sanctions against countries that allow children to be used as soldiers.
© 2004 Independent
Digital (UK) Ltd