Children are often the first casualties of any armed conflict. Since the nineties, attention has been focused on Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kosovo, Rwanda, Somalia, Liberia, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Angola. All in all, active conflicts continue around the globe today.
Every armed conflict forces children to go through atrocious experiences as child soldiers, refugees or displaced children.
Both boys and girls are abducted and used as child soldiers in civil wars in some countries. The development of lighter weapons such as the AK-47 means that children as young as eight can be armed. Army chiefs actively use children because they are small and speedy, easy to intimidate and are less likely to rebel.
Once recruited, child soldiers serve as porters, cooks, guards, messengers, spies or are forced to provide sexual favours. Many are pressed into combat, where they may be forced to the front lines or sent into land-mines ahead of older troops.
Rehabilitation of child soldiers is a difficult process because they have been psychologically broken down and rebuilt as killing machines. In addition, many former child soldiers do not have access to educational programmes, vocational training, family reunification, or even the shelter they need to successfully rejoin civilian society. As a result, many end up on the street, become involved in crime, or are drawn back into armed conflict.
Refugees and Displaced Children
The waves of violence that have swept across the world have uprooted many children. Some are classified as ‘displaced’, having fled their homes to move elsewhere within their own country while others are ‘refugees’ who have crossed the border into neighbouring countries.
When forced into squalor and deprivation, the characteristic conditions of refugee camps, children are at particular risk. The lack of food, clean water and adequate health care in some overcrowded refugee camps exacts a terrible toll on child casualties of war who are often chronically ill, mutilated, blind or mentally disturbed.
Most modern-day conflicts last the length of a childhood. It is not only the children who are devastated by war but also the very resources that are needed to help them develop skills for their adult lives. Schools and hospitals are destroyed and often following a protracted civil war, many countries lack the resources to rebuild their infrastructure. As a result, at the very time when many children need physical and psychological healthcare and education, these resources are lacking.
The severe psychological wounds inflicted on children can scar them for life, crippling the very generations that must one day rebuild their devastated countries.
Children are suffering from direct consequences of war and they are unable to say or do anything to protect themselves.
A tribute is due to the volunteers, aid workers and organisations that respond to the needs of child soldiers, refugees and displaced children around the world: Thank you for taking the opportunity to help our children and our world.