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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

Chapter six: A Child Turned Combatant: A Case Of Robbed Innocence

‘… They said that we kadogo should stand in front during the battles, as the bullets couldn’t touch us, that they would hit those behind instead (Ex-Child Soldier in Burundi, July 2006)’

The previous chapter discussed policy framework and how young people are being discriminated against by everybody they come into contact with, including those who are supposed to implement policy. This chapter is slightly different from the previous in that it examines young people’s motives for enlistment in armed groups, and the psychological impact of war on young people. The chapter also discusses children’s vulnerability to enlistment because of the motives of adults and the technological advancement in weaponry. The question of why policy makers as well as domestic institutions and social structures must focus on addressing the issues and concerns of young people in Africa is addressed in the conclusion of the chapter.

Background and Overview of Conflicts in Africa

In the last two decades, the African continent has been plagued with several armed and violent conflicts. The majority of the 19 major armed conflicts reported in 17 locations worldwide, were fought in Africa (SIPRI, 2005). It is also estimated that three-quarters of all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa are recorded to have witnessed armed conflict since 1990 (Pumphey, 2003). Many of these are civil wars between parties within the same culture, society or nationality fighting against each other for the control of political power. Most of the conflicts are internal and villages and towns become battlefields, resulting in extensive damage to schools and hospitals as well as the mass movements of refugees and displaced persons. Around 8 million people have died of conflict-related causes in Africa since 1991 (Economist, 2004), about 3.3 million are refugees (Menkhaus, 2004), and another 13.5 million are internally displaced persons (Human Rights Watch, 2004). These wars target civilians and make the rural communities unsafe. The civilian death tolls jumped from 14 percent in World War I to 67 percent in World War II and today 90 percent of civilians and children are killed in wars (Randy Miller, Children of War).

Another characteristic of these wars is that they target children as young as 5 – 12 years of age. Children are not only witnesses of unspeakable carnage, many are killed and caused to kill others. Children are soft targets and are vulnerable to recruitment through abduction or they are easily manipulated by ideological propaganda encouraging them to enlist voluntarily. Children have been forced into battle with less training than adults, thus making them attractive recruits.

3

A Swahili word for child soldiers

8

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