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Confronting the Myths About Child Soldiers

May 25, 2009

At Foreign Policy, a discussion of the child soldier phenomenon that is all-too-much a part of modern, asymmetrical warfare. From the RUF in Sierra Leone to the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, children have been kidnapped, drugged, beaten and brainwashed into acting as soldiers and suicide bombers in adult conflicts. And while this tragedy is well-known, many of the details have escaped public attention or, worse, the image of the child soldier has been distorted by political and journalistic bias. For example, many think that the majority of child soldiers are African boys. As it turns out, that assumption is…

…not even close. You can forget about the popular image that the phrase “child soldier” evokes: a pre-adolescent African boy, perhaps doped, wielding an AK-47 with anger burning in his eyes. Many child soldiers are not armed combatants. They include messengers, porters, spies, and sex slaves. So great is the diversity of tasks that many advocates now prefer the less punchy but more accurate term, “children associated with fighting forces.”

Nor does the gender distinction hold water. Recent studies estimate that girls represent as high as 40 percent of fighters in some armed groups. Girls have fought in nearly 40 wars in the last two decades. Like their male counterparts, girls do at times serve as combatants, just as both genders are recruited for sexual enslavement.

Certainly, child soldiering is a global phenomenon, not simply an African one. More than 70 military organizations in 19 countries around the world recruited and used them in armed hostilities between 2004 and 2007. Burma is among the largest users of child soldiers, with the government and rebel groups recruiting tens of thousands of children between them. In Colombia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, child soldiers have taken to the battlefield. In fact, both Britain and the United States also recruit 17-year-olds, technically still children, on the grounds that they are not allowed into combat (though both have admitted to putting under-18s on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq). Australia, Austria, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and New Zealand all have similar policies.

One Comment leave one →
  1. carol permalink
    May 25, 2009 10:30 am

    We can help..Or at least try..

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