A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
Motivation to Participate in Conflict
Motivations for enlistment are varied and complex, some are forced, others choose to join as in Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Burundi. Some children below 15 enlisted in the rebel forces to avenge the deaths of their family members, as was the case of a young Burundian girl who witnessed her father’s murder at the hands of government troops, as she stated: “Me, I really had a lot of problems. After I’d realised that there was no point in staying at home while others were fighting for the country, for peace, I decided to join them. That was how I came to enlist in that army – I was 12 years old” (Kigeme Rose was born in 1988 in Ruyigi Province, Kinyinya Commune, Burundi). This child and her father were entitled to state protection as a constitutional right. The lack of protection and betrayal when the state is also the perpetrator of violence may drive victims to seek vengeance thus continuing the cycle of violence and conflict.
In many countries the children are forcibly recruited, “press-ganged” or abducted by armed groups. A child in Uganda had this to say: “I was abducted with my three brothers, on the 30th November 1991 at around 3.00 a.m. in the morning. I tried to resist but I was beaten seriously with a panga (machete). They asked for money and after one of my brothers gave them money they decided to release my three brothers but not me. I stayed in Sudan for six years before I could come back to Uganda” (Monica, Uganda Case Study 2006).
Some children join armed groups because of economic or social pressure, or because children believe that the group will offer food or security. Some children turn to violence and conflict to satisfy their needs since they are promised payment. The social drivers such as unemployment, poverty and peer pressure are what often drives young people to join armed groups. Children are most likely to become child soldiers if they are poor, separated from their families, displaced from their homes, living in a combat zone or have limited access to education. Orphans and refugees are particularly vulnerable to recruitment (Human Rights Watch, 2006).
The psychology of war and the changing role of youth in conflict
War has caused lots of destruction to young people’s social networks and formation. “A child who does not play is a dying child (Bronfenbrenner, 1994)37”. These children of war have been forcefully uprooted from familiar environments and led through distorted stages of development characterized by numerous traumatic experiences in the hands of people who do not care about them. Terburgh rightly states that:
Cited in Brendtro & Long’s “Violence Begets Violence” in JEB-P Spring, 99