Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Hidden Health Trauma of Child Soldiers

A new Belgian study reveals that children abducted or recruited to fight in wars suffer horrific atrocities and many are beaten and sexually abused. Young soldiers are forced to kill other children or even members of their own family, and girls are given to senior staff to act as wives. "I think this is the first time someone has investigated their experiences," Ilse Derluyn, of Ghent University in Belgium. An estimated 300,000 children, some 12 or younger, are currently serving as soldiers or guerrilla fighters in conflicts around the globe. Derluyn and her colleagues interviewed 301 former child soldiers who had been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel movement in northern Uganda. Their research is published in The Lancet medical journal.

UN Regional Information Africa (IRIN) has more on this story.

In the meantime, reports that Nepal's Maoist rebels have announced plans to raise a militia of 50,000 children by April, amid reports of mass abduction, even sexual abuse of kids, who they allegedly use as cannon fodder. On February 22, the leader of the Maoists student wing, Kamal Shahi, said the decision to raise child militia was taken by the rebel leadership on January 10-11. This marks a major departure from their previous commitments to avoid recruiting children below the age of 18. The radical decision has raised the hackles of rights activists and international organizations which have criticized the ideological indoctrination and military training of children in the conflict-torn kingdom.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (CSC) is an NGO that does valuable human rights work around this issue. They have been at the forefront of efforts to ban the recruitment and use of child soldiers, while encouraging sustainable networks to promote demobilization and reintegration of former child soldiers. The site provides news, information, resourses and related links.