A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
Technological advances in weaponry and the proliferation of small arms have contributed to the increase in child soldiers as their participation in battle is made easy by the use of simple and light weapons such as AK47’s and M16’s. An estimated 2 million children and youth have died and 1.5 million displaced as a result of armed conflict (World Youth Report 2003).
Nature of actors in conflict and participation of children
The 1990s has seen a dramatic expansion of civil wars across Africa with a corresponding expansion of child-based warfare, propelling children into the spotlight. Since 2001, the participation of child soldiers has been reported in 21 on-going or recent armed conflicts in almost every region of the world. Youth played a crucial role in armed conflict and civil unrest in Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Sudan and Uganda. Child soldiers are used by armed opposition forces, although many are used by government armies. Today, as many as 300,000 children under the age of 18 serve in government forces or armed rebel groups. Some are as young as eight years old. Children under-18 have been recruited into government armed forces, paramilitaries, civil militia and a wide variety of non-state armed groups in more
than 85 countries (Human Rights Watch, 2006).
Children are uniquely vulnerable to military recruitment because of their emotional and physical immaturity. They are easily manipulated and can be drawn into violence that they are too young to resist or understand. Many are pressed into combat, where they may be forced to the front lines or sent into minefields ahead of older troops. Some children have been used for suicide missions or used like human shields in battlefields as stated by a young Burundian girl: ‘… 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”, (Formerly abducted child in Burundi, July 2006). ’ In Uganda, the LRA deceived abducted child soldiers by telling them that the bullets would not touch them if they are smeared with shea butter.
Sometimes the armed forces drugged the children in an attempt to blind them from the atrocities children are made to commit on victims. Although this did not come out of the Uganda and Burundi case studies, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone said: “We smoked jambaa (marijuana) all the time. They told us it would ward off disease in the bush. Before a battle, they would make a shallow cut here (on the temple, beside the right eye) and put powder in, and cover it with a plaster. Afterward, I didn’t see any human being having value” (Alieu, Bangura, 14) 36. The child soldiers are easily manipulated and encouraged to commit grievous acts, which they are often unable to comprehend. Some of them have witnessed or taken part in acts of unbelievable violence, often against their own families or
3 Tom Masland (2002), Newsweek May 3, 2002.