Children without a childhood

New York City, 1998

My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.

“Why did you leave Sierra Leone?”

“Because there is a war.”

“Did you witness some of the fighting?”

“Everyone in the country did.”

“You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?”

“Yes, all the time.”

Cool.

I smile a little.

“You should tell us about it sometime.”

“Yes, sometime.”

 (Excerpt of the book “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah)

Today there are still approximately 250,000 children who have to fight in conflicts all over the world. Ishmael Beah was one of them. At the age of 12 he was forced to join the government army of Sierra Leone and to fight against his own family. Not only did he kill several people already at the age of 13, but he witnessed the most shocking things you can imagine like rapes and brutal assassinations.

One would believe that this is not possible nowadays, that there are laws against child warriors, which do exist but are not obeyed. Little children at the age of sometimes 8 years are forced to carry weapons around and to actually use them.

Child soldiers are cheap. They don’t need anything but some food and that is one thing they sometimes even don’t get. Once they’re separated from their parents it is easy to grab and drug them and implement thoughts into their brain to make them do what they want. A child on drugs with no connection to their family is like a robot to them. People forcing children to fight during war see them as machines and not as actual human beings which has also happened during the conflict in Syria.

Can something be done against it?

UNICEF was the first institution that concentrated only on the problems of children suffering from war and conflicts all over the world. They were founded right after World War II and have been fighting for children’s rights and against injustices ever since.

They also saw the threatening trend of more and more child soldiers and thus, UNICEF implemented a law in 2000 stating that 18 is the minimum age for the direct participation in armed conflicts, this law has been ratified by over 110 countries.

Ratification is good as it is the first step towards justice for children, but obviously not enough since there are still child warriors around the world.

The most effective way would be to stop all conflicts around the world, which is a political issue but also a Utopia. Another way is to impose sanctions to those governments who make use of child soldiers, but this thread also has its flaws.

Right now people start prosecuting governments and the people responsible for recruiting children (also in Sierra Leone), which may lead to some kind of justice for the children, but can you really call that justice?

A child who once was a child soldier will never be able to live a normal live and never be able to forget the things seen. There should be a harder punishment for those forcing innocent children to use guns and kill their families. But what punishment is hard enough to finally do justice?

“Nature wants children to be children before they become adults.”

                                                                                                                                  (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)

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