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Child Soldiers: A disheartening reality

ImageThe disheartening practice of using children as child soldiers is widely practiced in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of Asia and South America. Currently, there are about 300,000 children involved in conflicts around the world.  Most of these boys and girls are forced while others join to escape poverty and abuse or to seek revenge. Those that are forced are often stolen, maimed, drugged, raped, and used as sex slaves.

ImageChild soldiers are often used to serve government forces and opposition groups. Not only do these children work in the front lines but they also work as messengers and spies. Some even participate in suicide missions. UNICEF defines a child soldier as “any child-boy or girl- under 18 years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including, but not limited to: cooks, porters, messengers, and anyone accompanying such groups other than family members. It includes girls and boys recruited for forced sexual purposes and/or forced marriage. The definition, therefore, does not only refer to a child who is carrying, or has carried, weapons.”

ImageTo try to put an end to the recruitment of child soldiers, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict entered and was put into force in 2002. This convention “outlaws the involvement of children under age 18 in hostilities” and requires States “to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment beyond the current minimum of 15.” Other efforts include those made by the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which makes it a war crime to enlist children under the age of 15 in hostilities by national armed forces or armed groups.

ImageMany other efforts have been made by organizations such as UNICEF and The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative to help put an end to this appalling practice. UNICEF, for example, partners with other NGOS to provide care, technical guidance, and financial support for the implementation of programs for DDR (disarmament, demobilization, reintegration).  UNICEF works in places such as the Great Lakes region of Africa, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, to name a few. The Romeo Daillaire Initiative, on the other hand, provides research, advocacy, and security sector training. It works directly with military, police, and peacekeeping forces to break the recruitment of child soldiers.

ImageEnding the use of child soldiers is not an easy task but with such efforts it can eventually be eliminated. Want to learn more about child soldiers? We were inspired to write this blog after hearing a former child solider, Ishmael Beah speak about his experiences. We encourage everyone to read his book “A long way gone: Memoirs of a boy solider” and to check out this website to see how you can get involved: http://www.child-soldiers.org

Help Starts Young

Here’s another post for our Get Educated, One Topic At A Time blog series! This week you can learn about Child Poverty throughout the world and the efforts being made to help the fight against child poverty and child labor so that future generations can develop. You can also check out our past blog posts to learn about more global topics: “A Historical Moment For Genocide”, “Two Sides To Invest”, “An Undefined Grasp Of Failure”, “A Necessary Priority”, “A Reform For The World” and “The Rural Challenge”. Check back next Monday for another blog post!

About 45 % of children in Latin America and the Caribbean live in a state of poverty.

his means that child poverty affects nearly 81 million children and adolescents in these regions of the world! As defined by the UN General Assembly in 2007, child poverty is “the deprivation of nutrition, water and sanitation facilities, access to basic health-care services, shelter, education, participation, and protection”. Nutrition is immensely important in a child’s life for lack of it can cause damage in early childhood and have harmful long-term effects on the child’s health. Despite this, about 30 million children are born each year with impaired growth due to poor nutrition. Possible solutions to unhealthy diets include proper education on healthy eating habits and income support (healthy food tends to cost more than unhealthy substitutes).

Education, including that learned in school and from one’s social interactions and environment, can be a means of escaping poverty because it improves the chances that the child will have a good income and be able to afford the necessities denied him/her by poverty. Unfortunately, a child’s ability to receive a quality education is largely based on the family’s finances, seeing as how an education costs money. Sadly, a family’s low financial status increases the chances of the child being forced into child labor so as to help support the family and himself/herself. While working as a child can make school for the individual possible (working for the money that will fund their education), child labor can also be a means of a child getting stuck in poverty by hurting the child’s health or keeping him/her tied down by low-skilled work. However, child labor that offers the child the ability of a formal education or out of poverty and is not dangerous to the child is not the worst option. As a country, it is important to determine the nature of the child labor before completely banning what may, in fact, be helping.

A range of factors contributes to child poverty. An example of such are the natural disasters that constantly plague the Caribbean, leaving the countries in disrepair and economic strife. The fact that children are not represented in policies to the same extent as adults also allows child poverty to prevail because they are not being protected by laws or governments. Despite the various contributors to child poverty, one theory remains quite evident: the failure to effectively end child poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean produces a cycle of hardship that passes on to generations while further limiting the future opportunities for these children.

United Nations milestones such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted in 1989) and the establishment of the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1946 have made great strides to dealing with and eventually ending child poverty. Defined by UNICEF, the Convention is “an international treaty that recognizes the human rights of children, defined as persons up to the age of 18 years old”. The Committee on the Rights of the Child ensures that countries are working towards “ensuring that all children have access to education and healthcare, the ability to reach their potential and abilities, grow up in a positive environment of love and happiness, and benefit from protection and assistance”. UNICEF has participated in much humanitarian work aimed at child poverty and works through TACRO (UNICEF’s regional office for the Americas and the Caribbean) to support and work with other organizations like the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization in order to advocate for good nutrition practices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Overall, although child poverty remains an issue of international affairs, the UN and its organizations continue to work towards the cease of this epidemic.

-Amanda