Children in Conflict: Child Soldiers
Over the last ten years, two million children have been killed in conflict. Over one million have been orphaned, over six million have been seriously injured or permanently disabled and over ten million have been left with serious psychological trauma.
War affects every aspect of a child's development. Children affected by armed conflict can be injured or killed, uprooted from their homes and communities, internally displaced or refugees, orphaned or separated from their parents and families, subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation, victims of trauma as a result of being exposed to violence, deprived of education and recreation, at risk of becoming child soldiers. It is highly probable that children living in conflict areas will be deprived of basic needs such as shelter, food and medical attention. In addition, relief for children tends to be the last priority in war, resulting in insufficient or no protection for minors. Besides, children are, due to their physical constitution and growth, most vulnerable to being deprived of food, medical assistance and education, which has a severe and lasting impact on their development.
Since 1998 there have been armed conflicts involving child soldiers in at least 36 countries. However, the traumatic scars left on children are just one of a vast aftermath of post war problems: refugees, food shortages and mourning for lost relatives. Former Child Soldiers may at best have their needs forgotten and at worst be blamed by their communities for what happened.
Children from poor and disadvantaged families who are seeking physical support, revenge for their losses or the sense of belonging are particularly vulnerable to expoitation during conflict. Other children are kidnapped and forced to become fighters. It is estimated that over the last 15 years 10,000 children have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) around Gulu in northern Uganda, alone. Children are deliberately targeted as they are manipulated more easily than adults and can be indoctrinated to perform crimes and atrocities without asking questions.
As you would expect, SOS Children works in many countries to help Child Soldiers and other children scarred by conflict. As well as our current focus projects for Ugandan Child Soldiers and children in Palestine, we are working around the world with children whose lives will never be the same. Other current child soldier projects include rehabilitation of child soldiers in Sudan where SOS is providing counselling, family-tracing, education and support for former child soldiers.
We are also able to look back from long experience at the issue of child soldiers. Ten years after the massacre in Rwanda, we are working to rebuild lives. Nine members of our community were murdered in the genocide there. Another, who was forced to became a child soldier and join the conflict, only to lose a leg to a land-mine, is interviewed on our Rwanda page.
“War violates every right of a child – the right to life, the right to be with family and nurtured and respected”, (Grace Machel, UN, 1996).