The movie Departed brought it to the world in gory detail. Surely, an AK-47 replacing a textbook in a child’s hands is a deplorable sight. Though the 1997 Cape Town agreement had set the minimum age for army recruitment to 18 years to eradicate the term ‘child soldier’, a decade on, the problem seems to be as acute as ever, particularly in Africa.
Contrary to international opinion that in most countries children volunteer to act as soldiers, the brutal truth remains that they are coerced into fighting, trampling their childhood and leaving them scarred for life. A British based charity ‘Save The Children’ reports that child fighters are still active in about 13 countries, including Afghanistan, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, and Sri Lanka among others. Even the UNICEF (which organized the symposium in South Africa that led to the Cape Town principles) ‘State of the World’s Children’ report notes that although demobilised, the former child soldiers are yet to be fully reintegrated into society.
To say we require urgent action would be an understatement, since governments already have had a decade to act. The only possible approach is a grassroots one to wipe out the ‘conflict zones’ which still spawn ‘child soldiers’.