Former child soldiers need ‘lure of a brighter future’
- Red Hand Day falls as more than 600 children are released from armed groups in South Sudan
- Children are lured into armed groups with false promises of food, education, protection
- Everyone can help reduce the use and impact of conflict on children
February 12 – Children as young as 6 are being pulled into adult wars in ways that are unimaginable given all the promises that have been made to help them, says World Vision this Red Hand Day.
“We still hear these stories from children all too often, and for many the reasons they ended up involved in the conflict are heart-breaking; the promise of a free education, guarantees they’ll never go hungry, the lure of protecting their family and community. What they need is the lure of a brighter future,” says World Vision Campaigns Director Andrew Hassett.
“This is possible. Change happens in some of the toughest places in the world, thanks to efforts by communities, supported by commitments and funding from leaders. We are seeing this happen in South Sudan, where just last week, more than 600 children involved in the country’s armed conflict were released. We are now working with around 200 of them as they go through reintegration and reunification work. We want these children to believe a brighter future is possible, for them and for their country, and they are taking the first steps towards that today.”
Hain remembers being told to kill or be killed. He was forced into an armed group in Myanmar when he was just 16.
"I shot just over 100 people. There were some people who were same age as me in the army. Some even looked younger,” he said. “Whenever I think about those moments, I can’t sleep, I can’t eat and sometimes I don’t even know how to live."
Ngalula is a 12-year-old with a big smile and a heartbreaking story. One day, in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of her friends asked her to take a walk with her. “I didn’t know where we were going. We got to the forest where the militia had their camp, and as we got there I told her, ‘I don’t want to join the movement; my parents don’t want me to join’. But she told me ‘if you don’t join we will kill you,’ and I was scared so I told her that instead of killing me I would join the militia.”
“No child should be forced to fight in wars started and fueled by adults,” says Hassett. “Yet right now, hundreds of thousands of children are involved in armed conflicts, illegally, around the world. This is despite leaders condemning the use of children in fighting. It is despite leaders pledging to do more to end a practice that steals futures and subjects children to horrors no one, let alone a child, should witness.
“Children are easy targets. They are vulnerable and prone to being lured by simple, dishonest promises, when life around them seems to offer no alternative. It is on all of us to change this reality for children
“It’s 2018, it’s time vulnerable children everywhere know we have their backs. And it’s time for governments to put in place practical steps to address the causes of conflict and bring an end to the recruitment of child soldiers.”
World Vision calls on governments to bring an end to the use of children in conflict by:
Setting 18 as the minimum age for both recruitment and participation. In many countries, the armed forces minimum age is 16; it should be 18.
Recognising and supporting the role of children in building peace.
Providing economic and social protection that reduce risk of recruitment, such as improved access to good quality education for children at risk, so the promise of an education isn’t enough of a reason for a child to join an armed group. Children like 15-year-old David in DRC, believe this promise until it’s too late: “They never stopped saying, ‘Fight, and if we win, you can study for free’. This never happened. When I see my friends going to school, I feel betrayed; we were cheated.”
Ensuring a protective environment for children that strengthens the formal system and community-based informal protection networks and builds children’s resilience to recruitment
Working with faith and community leaders to end practices that encourage children’s participation in conflict.
Implementing universal birth registration, so invisible and vulnerable children cannot easily be taken without a trace.
Controlling the flow of small arms. The easy accessibility of small arms contributes to the recruitment of children; they’re low cost, children can be trained on them in about 30 minutes, and they are light enough for even small children to handle.
Investing more in the prevention and peaceful resolution of armed conflict so that children don’t face this threat in the first place
A snapshot of World Vision’s work with former child soldiers:
We run helplines in places like Myanmar for child soldiers who want to escape, or have escaped, armed groups.
We help former child soldiers like Hain to start new lives and reintegrate into their families and communities.
Together with partners we help children get back into school, and set up Child Friendly Spaces, where displaced, demobilised, and other children affected by conflict can play and process their experiences.
We work with children formerly involved in the conflict in South Sudan, to help them recover from the violence they have witnessed or experienced, and peacefully rejoin society. We provide assistance to find and return children to their families and ensure safe, supervised care.
We work with partners, including governments, to provide viable alternatives to children at risk of joining armed forces or armed groups, such as targeted livelihoods and education programmes and youth peacebuilding activities.