Child Soldiers in Somalia
Among Somalia’s numerous human rights crises is the recruitment of child soldiers. Not only is Somalia one of the countries with the most child soldiers, but its living standards are not improving. This article discusses five facts about Somalia’s child soldiers, along with hopeful measures which could improve the situation in the foreseeable future.

5 Facts About Child Soldiers in Somalia

  1. Somalia possesses the largest number of children who have died during war in the world. Somalia’s ongoing civil war led to drastic measures, including child recruitment into armed forces. In 2017, Somalia recorded 931 children killed at war, along with 2,127 children used in conflict. Additionally, Somalia verified the recruitment of 6,163 children between 2010 and 2016.
  2. There are many different ways to recruit child soldiers. Children’s rights in Somalia rank a 3.6/10 on the Children’s Rights Index. This ranking places Somalia in the Black Level for children’s rights, within the worst conditions in the world. This is due to several prominent factors, including the lack of education, forced displacement, sexual abuse and lack of food. All of these things happen to the majority of child soldiers in Somalia. Children as young as 9 years old suffer enlistment into Somali armed forces, both willingly and forcefully. According to reports, a majority of these children actually recruit themselves voluntarily. Often, militant groups trick child soldiers into believing that they are helping their country by doing so. Additionally, in many cases, militant groups kidnap these children and forced them into armed services. The abduction of children occurs strategically. The children targeted usually congregate in places where they are vulnerable and in large numbers, including churches, schools and orphanages. Others choose them based on their height and physical conditions.
  3. Militant terrorist organizations recruit most child soldiers. Many believe that Somalia’s government willingly allows the military to recruit children. However, this is not true. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the military that recruits these children, but, instead, terrorist groups fighting against the Somali government. The most prominent of these groups, Al-Shabaab, defines itself as an independent militant group that broke away from the Union of Islamic Courts. Al-Shabaab often demands teachers, elders and rural communities to provide them with children 8 years old and older to help them fight. Al-Shabaab has taken the most extreme measures, such as beating, raping, torturing and killing people who refused to give away their children. Over the past 10 years, Al-Shabaab recruited thousands of children to be child soldiers. In total, Al-Shabaab recruited 70% of all child soldiers in Somalia.
  4. Militant groups choose child soldiers for various strategic reasons. One might question why groups like Al-Shabaab target children since children are physically weaker than adults and lack fighting skills. However, targeting children as recruits supports Al-Shabaab’s goal to oust Somalia’s government. Firstly, children are likely to be more vulnerable than adults. Others can easily persuade them to fight for their country, thus making them believe that their contribution is voluntary and will benefit Somalia. The children who become child soldiers do not only serve as frontline fighters. Militant groups use many children as looters, spies, messengers or informants. Additionally, the physical weakness of children makes them prone to sexual assault from their terrorist leaders, who entrap some children as sexual slaves. Lastly, children present better targets than adults since they require less food and water to live. Groups like Al-Shabaab feed child soldiers just enough to survive and function in the war while remaining weak enough for physical manipulation.
  5. Organizations working against child soldiers in Somalia are making progress. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an organization that supports residents from areas liberated from Al-Shabaab. Recently, its work focuses on helping residents resettle after losing their homes in battle. Since child soldiers have a high risk of re-recruitment unless properly reintegrated into society, its initiative to take on such a difficult issue demonstrates progress. The AMISOM Civil Affairs Officer, Christopher Ogwang, speaking about recent developments, stated, “Our responsibility is to do reconstruction where necessary. We are also extending our services to rehabilitate social facilities like schools, hospitals and police stations.”

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, this treacherous issue will not undergo resolution overnight. However, organizations like AMISOM are doing their part in saving Somalian children from becoming child soldiers. The rest of us can contribute to the struggle by keeping informed about these issues and spreading information. Doing as little as this can help take a huge step towards saving child soldiers in Somalia.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Child Soldiers in Iraq
The use of child soldiers in Iraq is pervasive, with the practice going as far back as 1975, manifested in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party initiative that strove to create a paramilitary organization for children as young as 14 years of age. Thousands of child soldiers volunteered by 1988, many of them wishing to fight against Iran between 1983 and 1985. Drafting became relatively unpopular due to labor shortages, a ramification of child deaths. As ISIS paraded through countries like Iraq and Syria in the coming years, it also learned of the idea of recruiting children to become soldiers.

The Nearer Past

The 1969 Military Service Act, coupled with resolutions that the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) engendered, determined that the pickings for conscription during times of war were up to the RCC’s discretion. According to Human Rights Watch, conscripting children younger than the age of 15 is a war crime and the age that constitutes a violation under international law is 18. Human Rights Watch has censured the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), operating as the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as PKK, and the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS), also with ties to PKK, following an investigation uncovering 29 documented cases of child conscription.

“The PKK should categorically denounce the recruitment and use of child soldiers and commanders in affiliated armed groups should know that the recruitment and use of children younger than 15 constitute war crimes,” says Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

The Influence of Poverty

COVID-19 briefly exacerbated poverty in Iraq, with children and adolescents in Iraq bearing much of the burden. An additional 4.5 million Iraqis who moved below the poverty line increased the percentage of impoverished people in Iraq by 11.7% from the 20% mark in 2018. However, the 20% statistic has since fallen to 24.8% due to the governmental decision to attenuate health regulations, somewhat stimulating the economy.

Eliminating child soldiers in Iraq and beyond requires, among other things, a focus on ending poverty. NGOs like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Iraq Child Rights Network are taking a crucial step in the fight by succoring Iraqi and Syrian refugees and empowering them to rebuild their lives. These NGOs also champion healthy childhood development by working in tandem with official bodies like UNICEF to enable laws that bode well for children in Iraq respectively.

Many factors, including poverty, abduction, threat, manipulation, survival and protection, compel children to prematurely engage or aid armed combatants, although poverty and manipulation tend to be especially pervasive. A suffusing of refugee camps, an answer to conflict, especially explosive ones, presents an abundance of children who are devoid of proper guidance through loss of family or legal guardianship, leaving them at mercy of manipulative and despotic fighters to fill the void. Whatever the reasons, child involvement in armed conflict is a solemn breach of child rights and international humanitarian law.

A Ramification of the Past

The power vacuum that resulted from the deposition of Saddam Hussein left many combatants struggling for power in the region, eventually giving birth to ISIS, a Sunni-insurgency from Iraq, which caused devastation that the world came to know. As ISIS annexed parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in 2014, the group began to envision a lasting caliphate that could not and would not last, except with an incoming generation of properly indoctrinated subjects. The recent conquests of ISIS, which displaced approximately 700,000 students from proper education, left the terrorist group with a sea of students susceptible to recruitment.

The Child Soldier’s Prevention Act of 2008

Remedying the issue of child soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere is perplexing. Military action risks both a moral dilemma and the potential for intra-conflict for any given military that may otherwise intervene. One can attribute some progress in the battle against the conscription of child soldiers in Iraq to the enactment of the Child Soldier’s Prevention Act of 2008, which has employed the method of engagement of publicly identifying countries involved with child soldiers and restricting security assistance to such countries under the condition that the call to cease child involvement in war goes unheeded.

Prohibition of licenses for direct commercial sales of military paraphernalia, foreign military financing, international military schooling, peacekeeping operations and superfluous military equipment have undergone implementation in order to target countries, albeit said countries may receive a full or partial waiver under the condition that the response to active restrictions brings forth a favorable response. Although Iraq remains a designated country under CSPA ruling, it received a full waiver of restrictions from the Trump administration in 2020, indicating that the country took steps to demobilize, reintegrate and rehabilitate child soldiers.

Geneva Call

Although states largely experience penalties for child conscription, non-state organizations are the usual perpetrators. The restrictions push these states to fight against the issue at home, though this has not kept non-state actors out of earshot of organizations like Geneva Call, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that began in March 2000. Geneva Call tasks itself with enlightening conflict actors on their responsibility as soldiers and informing an inflicted population of their rights.

The HPG and YBS came under close scrutiny by Geneva Call following a Human Rights Watch report noting their involvement in recruiting child soldiers in Iraq. In November 2016, 31 leaders, commanders and advisers of armed movements from several countries, including Iraq, partook in workshops and discussions regarding child protection in armed conflict. The opportunity aimed to educate groups on international norms while seeking pragmatic means of achieving and maintaining adherence to these guidelines.

Using children for military gain branches out of poverty, itself a progenitor of war. Legislation, advocation, education and its complements are not without merit, but eradicating the use of child soldiers once and for all is only possible if countries commit to reducing abject poverty within their borders.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Afghanistan Afghanistan currently faces a large-scale human trafficking crisis that is rooted in centuries of abuse. Children and women are sold or kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery or armed forces. With the Afghani Government failing to properly protect victims and prosecute perpetrators, the U.S. Department of State and a network of NGOs are working to alleviate the problem.

The Systemic Issues

One of the major issues contributing to the human trafficking crisis within Afghanistan is the continued practice of bacha bazi, or “dancing boys”, in which sexual abuse against children is performed by adult men. Although technically illegal, the centuries-old custom has been proven hard to get rid of, with many government and security officials being complicit with its continuation.

The U.S. Department of State has declared Afghanistan Tier 3, the highest threat level, meaning that it does not meet the minimum requirements for combatting human trafficking and is not making a significant effort to do so.

This has a significant impact on Afghanistan because according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the United States will not provide nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance to a country that is ranked on Tier 3. According to the June 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, the use of child soldiers and bacha bazi has continued. Although there have been investigations and arrests made in an attempt to end bacha bazi, no police officers involved were prosecuted.

Addressing Human Trafficking in Afghanistan

The Afghani Government has shown efforts to end human trafficking within its borders. In 2019, it joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on a global initiative to stop human trafficking. This initiative aims to allocate resources to countries in the Middle East and Asia that need assistance in the battle against human trafficking.

USAID reported that in 2019,  Afghanistan increased the number of Child Protection Units within national police precincts, preventing the recruitment of 357 child soldiers. Furthermore, the National Child Protection Committee (NCPC) was created to respond to the practice of bacha bazi.

USAID has worked to assist the Afghani by training government officials to prosecute human traffickers and abusers as well as giving assistance to shelter workers that give legal and social resources to victims. It assisted in the creation of the Afghanistan Network in Combating Trafficking in Persons (ANCTIP), a network of Afghan NGOs that work with victims of human trafficking.

NGOs within the country have provided most of the assistance to victims of human trafficking. Approximately 27 women’s shelters in 20 provinces provided protection and care for female victims of trafficking. NGOs also operated two shelters for male victims under the age of 18.

Eradicating Human Trafficking

In order for Afghanistan to efficiently combat its human trafficking crisis and move to a lower tier level, Afghanistan needs to increase criminal investigations and prosecutions of suspected traffickers, especially in law enforcement and the military. Furthermore, traffickers must be convicted and adequately sentenced. This can be done by increasing the influence and powers of the NCPC and allowing the committee to remove public servants found practicing bacha bazi. Additional support from the country’s government must also be given to survivors of human trafficking. Only by rooting out the systemic abuse within the top institutions of the country can Afghanistan effectively address its human trafficking crisis.

– Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

Ending Child LaborDespite a 38% global reduction of child labor between 2000 and 2016, hundreds of millions of children remain in exploitative labor conditions. Work deprives children of their formative childhoods and educational experiences, while potentially harming them physically and psychologically. So, how are people and organizations working to end child labor around the world?

Living in poverty is the main reason children work, whether by circumstance or force. However, child labor creates a cycle of poverty. Some children have to work to survive and help support their families. These children, therefore, do not have the time to receive an education. Education is considered a key to escape poverty; without it, children do not have many options other than continuing to work.

Most child labor is in agriculture; more than 75% of child laborers work the fields, but others work in factories or the service industry. Out of the 170 million child laborers, 6 million children are forced into labor. These children often become child soldiers or are sold into prostitution or slavery. The United Nations calls for an end to child labor in all forms by 2025, a mere five years away. Here are three U.N. solutions to achieve their goal to end child labor:

3 UN Solutions to End Child Labor

  1. 2021 is the International Year for Ending Child Labour. The United Nations General Assembly wants to draw attention to the millions of children working in fields, mines and factories during 2021. Member states of the International Labor Organization (ILO), a specialized agency of the U.N., will raise awareness of the importance of ending child labor and share successful projects. These projects include initiatives to reduce poverty, educate children, offer support services and enforce minimum age requirements, among other solutions. As the steady decrease in child labor tapered off in 2016, the hope is that this effort will renew the global community’s interest in eradicating child labor.
  2. The Clear Cotton Project plans to have sustainable cotton industries without child labor. With the rise of fast fashion, cotton is one of the most valuable supply chain commodities. Because of its high demand, the cotton industry is notorious for its use of child labor, now embedded into the supply chain. Children work long, often excruciating, hours picking cotton, weeding and transferring pollen in the fields. In factories and workshops, child workers spin the cotton and have various tasks, from sewing buttons to embroidering fabric. All of this work is often underpaid if compensated at all. The Clear Cotton Project wants its partner countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Pakistan and Peru to create sustainable cotton industries without child labor. The program, which started in 2018 and will end in 2022, has two strategies aimed at ending child labor. The first includes editing, strengthening and enforcing policy, legal and regulatory framework against child labor in accordance with ILO standards. The second strategy works to support local governments and public service providers. This strategy aims to increase access to education, create youth and women employment schemes and strengthen worker unions so workers can both recognize their rights and monitor their working conditions
  3. Ending child labor in African supply chains is receiving special attention. While the rest of the world saw a decrease in child labor between 2012 and 2016, Sub-Saharan Africa observed an increase. Child labor is most prevalent in supply chains, especially in cacao, cotton, gold and tea. In the tea industry alone, around 14% of children are working as laborers in Uganda. Even more children work in Malawi—38% of all children from ages 5-17. Producing tea is labor-intensive, from preparing the land for planting to harvesting to preparing the leaves for export. Children are involved at every level. To combat this, ACCEL Africa, a four-year program, began in 2018 to “accelerate action for the elimination of child labor in supply chains.” Partnered with the Netherlands, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda, the program aims to address the problems that cause institutionalized child labor in supply chains. These countries will also improve their child labor policies and legal framework and enforce the revisions to stop child labor.

While the U.N. has set a challenging goal, with increased awareness, commitment and cooperation, the global community can succeed in its programs, ending child labor by 2025. With a real childhood, education and a brighter future, these children will have a chance to step out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Unsplash

Child Labor in Nigeria
Child labor is one of the most monumental issues in Nigeria, a country with a developing economy, affecting a large portion of the country’s children up to age 17. Forgoing a normal care-free childhood, many children living on the front lines of poverty must maintain a job and sustain a regular income. The unethical use of child labor is an issue that has been prevalent throughout human history impacting health, wellbeing and quality of life. Below are 10 facts about child labor in Nigeria.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Nigeria

  1. Several different industries employ children. The jobs available to children are limited to unskilled and physical, labor-intensive tasks. The most common industries that employ children in Nigeria are cocoa farming, gold mining, sediment sifting, street peddling and domestic servitude.
  2. Conditions are hazardous. Although there are labor laws in place, Nigeria does not actively enforce safety regulations or preventative measures in the workplace. This type of neglect leads to an extremely dangerous environment that often results in bodily harm, severe trauma and even death. Children who work on the streets often make easy targets for violence and kidnapping. If a child suffers harm on the job, help or compensation does not extend to the family, leaving them to face the repercussions alone.
  3. Children often support their families. Much of child labor is a direct result of Nigeria’s extreme poverty, which accounts for around 70% of the nation’s population living below the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook. Families struggling to make ends meet often enlist the help of their children to bring in additional income. Without an effective welfare system, many families have no other option for survival. In an even more dire situation, some laborers who are orphans shoulder the entire burden of providing for younger siblings. Recent findings by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development found that about 17.5 million children become orphans or enter similarly vulnerable situations throughout the country.
  4. Child labor is on the rise. Estimates determine that the current number of child workers in Nigeria is 15 million according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). At a staggering 43% of the total population of minors, it is the highest recorded rate of child labor in Western Africa. The poverty rates have risen almost 20% — up from 53% in 2003 — in the span of 7 years, according to the World Bank and CIA World Factbook. This environment of financial strife causes more and more families to expect their children to go out to work and contribute an income.
  5. Children often drop out of school. Due to the rigid demands of a long workday, school often becomes less of a priority. Education is not legally mandatory in Nigeria so there is no required attendance. The lack of a proper education ensures they will remain unskilled laborers into adulthood, making it nearly impossible to escape the cycle of poverty. The Bureau of International Labor Affairs reports only 76% of children in total go to school, and about 27% of child laborers attend school in addition to work. Some reports have stated that certain schools exploit their students and make them work or beg during school hours to earn money for teachers.
  6. Many children experience trafficking. Children who are especially vulnerable, such as orphans, are more at risk for human trafficking and forced labor than adults, with their rate being estimated at 58%. Enticed by fictitious stories of better jobs located in more economically rich areas, they agree to leave their homes in hopes of making money. However, the traffickers never deliver the promise and the victims find themselves in even worse situations and unable to go home. Upon arrival, traffickers often claim that the child has accrued debt from transport. To maintain control and prevent runaways, traffickers use coercion in the form of threats against the child or their families back home to motivate them to pay off their debt. Unfortunately, these children find themselves in a ruse, where ballooned charges that continuously compound prevent them from ever making their final payment.
  7. Slavery is common. Around 30% of child workers do not receive compensation and must work against their will. Child slavery is very common in cases of trafficking or when there is no one to advocate for the child. In trafficking cases, traffickers tell the child that their salaries are going towards paying off their “debt.” In some live-in situations, their room and board charges absorb their pay. Those who do receive actual payment usually only take home pennies on the dollar.
  8. Girls are at higher risk for sexual exploitation, resulting from trafficking within the sex industry. A former government official, Martin Uhomoibhi, revealed to the U.N. that there were 602,000 known victims who made the dangerous journey across the continent in 2016. However, the total number of victims is widely unknown, since traffickers covertly smuggle many of the girls and women smuggled across Nigeria’s border, but experts believe that these numbers are some of the highest in the world. Traffickers often bring girls to brothels and restrain and force them to service clients in deplorable conditions despite any physical health ailments, according to horrifying testimonies that the Human Rights Watch recorded. The outlook for these girls is grim, as many die in captivity or move back to the streets due to critical conditions that render them unable to work, and therefore no longer profitable to their captors.
  9. There are unofficial wartime drafts. Regional conflicts and war cause armies to form as a way of resistance and protection against outside threats. Many know Africa for this sort of violence, with brutal wars routinely escalating. People often pull boys as young as 10 years old from their homes, give them a deadly weapon and order them to kill an unknown enemy. UNICEF estimates that around 3,500 Nigerian child soldiers have enlisted between 2013-2017. Many children die in active combat or from a lack of supplies.
  10. The government response has been underwhelming. New hope for relief on the child labor front occurred when the government signed the Child Rights Act into effect in 2003. Unfortunately, the government has put little effort forth toward ending the practice since its ratification. Many experts believe there will be no true resolution until the government steps in with not only stricter regulations, but absolute enforcement.

Children are society’s most vulnerable people. With no voice to advocate for their rights, they are in a poor position to influence political policy. A child’s place is in school where they can receive a proper education and use it to build a promising future, not just for themselves but for the society in which they live as well. It is the task and moral responsibility of adults and officials in power to prioritize basic human rights over the gilded benefits of cheap labor and end this practice permanently.

– Samantha Decker
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in Saudi Arabia
Many know Saudi Arabia as one of the richest countries in the world. With the second largest natural oil reserve underground, Saudi Arabia is rapidly accumulating wealth and political power in international affairs. However, there is a dark side to the flashy urban lights of Saudi Arabia. The wealth gap that exists between the rich and the poor, coupled with the country’s patriarchal tradition and its recent conflict with the Houthi movement in Yemen, puts many Saudi and immigrant children in danger of child labor, violence and economic exploitation. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Saudi Arabia.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Saudi Arabia

  1. Poverty is the main cause of Saudi Arabia’s Child Labor. While Saudi Arabia is famous for its wealth, thanks in large part to the second-largest oil deposits in the world, there is a big economic disparity between the poor and the rich. According to a study that the Saudi Arabian government funded in 2015, 22 percent of families in Saudi Arabia depend on their children’s income.
  2. The minimum employment age is 13. In the royal decree of 1969, Saudi Arabia enacted a law that set the minimum employment age to 13 years old and banned children from working in hazardous conditions. This does not apply to works in the family business, domestic labor and agricultural work. Some employers of Saudi Arabia exploit a loophole in the law. For example, this law does not address the child brides of Saudi Arabia. If a child bride does any house chores or agricultural work for her husband’s family, it will not be a violation of the minimum employment age law.
  3. There are cases of child labor trafficking from neighboring countries. Stemming from Saudi Arabia’s recent conflict with Yemen, which left Yemen devastated, wartorn and practically lawless, some Yemeni parents are seeking illegal agents who will traffick their children to Saudi Arabia. While some Yemeni parents traffick their children to Saudi Arabia to save them from the desperate conditions in Yemen, other parents traffick their children in hopes of economic relief provided by their children’s labor in Saudi Arabia. While deportation is the main concern of many Yemeni parents for their trafficked children, many trafficked Yemeni children are in danger of violence, hunger and sexual abuse.
  4. Child workers usually have parents who have low professional and education level. The low education and professional level of child workers’ parents, coupled with economic disparity, make poverty in Saudi Arabia hereditary. Saudi Arabia is taking steps to ameliorate this issue. In early 2018, the Saudi government declared that it aims to eradicate adult illiteracy by 2024. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education established adult education centers across the country and launched the Learning Neighborhood program in 2006 in pursuit of this goal.
  5. Children of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia do not have protection under a law that prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Saudi Arabia’s labor law does prohibit forced labor, however, these measures do not extend to over 12 million migrant workers in the country. Some employers exploit this loophole in the labor laws, which sometimes results in physical, mental and sexual abuse of migrant workers and their children.
  6. Saudi Arabia’s citizenship requirement puts Saudi children in danger of child labor and human trafficking. A Saudi child’s citizenship comes from his or her father. If a child has a citizen mother and a non-citizen father, or from a mother who is not legally married to a citizen father, there is a chance that the country will consider the child a stateless person. As a result of being stateless, Saudi Arabia can deny a child state education, and in certain cases, medical attention. According to the U.S. Department of State, about 5 percent of street begging children in Saudi Arabia are Saudi nationals of unknown parents.
  7. The Saudi government is working with the international community to combat child labor. In 2016, with technical advisory services support from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Saudi Arabia ratified its report for ILO’s Minimum Age Convention of 1973. According to the United Nations’ 2016 report on Saudi Arabia’s adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia adopted and implemented regulations against child abuse and human trafficking. As part of the new labor reforms and regulations in 2015, for example, the Labor Ministry of Saudi Arabia can impose SR $20,000 ($5,333) on employers who employ children under 15-years old.
  8. In 2014, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) launched a campaign against child labor in Saudi Arabia. For 19-days, WWSF campaigned to raise awareness for child labor, abuse and violence against children and youth. The National Family Safety Program of Saudi Arabia also launched its four-day program which raised awareness for economic exploitation and abuse of children in Saudi Arabia. Through these campaigns, both WWSF and the Saudi government aimed to reduce child labor in Saudi Arabia by highlighting that child labor contributes to the abuse of children by harming children’s health, physical development, psychological health and access to education.
  9. UNICEF and the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs opened a reception center for trafficked Yemeni children. Many trafficked Yemeni children end up in the streets of Saudi Arabian cities as beggars or street vendors. In the worst cases, these trafficked children are under severe danger of exploitation and abuse. When the Saudi authorities detained them, these Yemeni children usually went to prison or open-air enclosures with adult deportees. The center provides shelter for these children.
  10. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aims to address the country’s poverty. Launched in April 2016, the Saudi government plans to address the country’s poverty by improving state education and empowering nonprofit organizations. These improvements can lead to making more opportunities available for the children and parents of poor economic background, potentially reducing child labor in Saudi Arabia. In this pursuit, the Saudi government granted $51 billion to the education sector. The Ministry of education established educational centers all around the country to improve adult literacy and theories determine that this improvement in adult literacy will also improve child literacy.

Child labor in Saudi Arabia is both a local and international issue. While the stateless and poor children of Saudi Arabia turn to street vending and begging to support their families, many trafficked Yemeni children in the country are under constant threat of violence and exploitation. These 10 facts about child labor in Saudi Arabia show that with the help of the international community and the Saudi government’s increasing awareness of its less fortunate populace, a better future awaits for the children of Saudi Arabia.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Rescued Child Soldiers
At the age of seven, Judith became an accomplice to a murder. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raided her village and forced Judith to participate in the killing of her mother. The LRA then kidnapped Judith and her siblings and forced them to serve Joseph Kony. Thousands of children share Judith’s story. Today, the rescued child soldiers in Africa are finding healing and restoration through art.

The Rise of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

The World Economic Forum found that poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement were fertilizers for extremist groups to take root and grow. In the 1980s, poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement hit Uganda hard. Estimates determined that one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Uganda government officials did little to improve the dire situation. As a result, rebel groups and organizations began to pop up throughout the country. The Holy Spirit Movement, a militaristic and spiritual rebel group, formed to fight against the oppression of the people in northern Uganda. Joseph Kony joined the movement in the mid-1980s. After the Holy Spirit Movement’s defeat in 1988, Kony kept the organization. He renamed the group the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony used religion and traditional beliefs to continue the support of the people living in northern Uganda. His operation expanded to the nearby countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. The tactics Kony and the LRA used became more violent over time.

Kony and the LRA caused the displacement of more than 1.9 million people. Authorities issued a number of arrest warrants for Kony and leaders of the LRA on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA raided villages, burned down homes and murdered or mutilated thousands of people.

Child Soldiers in Africa

Kony lacked support for his cause and army. As a result, he abducted children and forced them into his service. Estimates state that the LRA kidnapped between 30,000 and 60,000 children. The LRA trained males to be child soldiers and females to be sex slaves. Fear was a major driver for children to remain in the LRA. Many children, like Judith, had to kill their parents and other loved ones for survival.

Art Is Restoring Peace to Rescued Child Soldiers

The U.N. called the LRA crisis the “most forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world.” A 29-minute film became the most effective tool in mobilizing the world into taking action against Kony and the LRA.

Art and social media were the key components of the success of the film “KONY 2012.” The U.S. advocacy group, Invisible Children, launched a digital campaign with the release of the film. The campaign’s goal was to make the infamous warlord famous in order to mobilize world leaders to stop him. The film garnered over 100 million views in six days. Public outcry and celebrity support increased the pressure for global leaders to take action against Kony. Eventually, authorities sanctioned a universal manhunt to capture Kony and put an end to the LRA. People have rescued many of the child soldiers in Africa but Kony still remains at-large. Today, the LRA has reduced to a group of fewer than 300 members.

Art has also been an effective tool for healing and restoration for the child victims of the LRA crisis. For many of the rescued child soldiers in Africa, there were some elements in their story that were too painful to put into words. Art became an avenue for those children to confront the past and face the future. Exile International, a nonprofit organization, has been providing healing to war-affected children through art-focused trauma care since 2008.

Recently, Exile International partnered with award-winning photographer and artist Jeremy Cowart to share the faces and powerful stories of child survivors. The Poza Project utilized the children’s art and Cowart’s talent to create a healing opportunity for the children to tell their own story of survival. Unique photographs and mixed art media created by the children were available for purchase. All the proceeds helped provide art therapy and holistic rehabilitation to children survivors of war. The Poza Project showcased a dozen children including Judith.

Judith spent nearly two years in captivity before being rescued. Today, she is back in school and working to become a psychiatric doctor. With the help of The Poza Project, Judith is one step closer to her dream of helping the other victims of Kony and the LRA.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Child Labor in Niger
Niger, a country in Western Africa, is one of the most impoverished nations in the entire world. While its economy is growing, many children enter harsh jobs to provide for their families. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Niger.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Niger

  1. Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world. On average, a woman from Niger will have around seven children. The high fertility rate has led to consistent population growth and large family sizes. It is quite common for large families in Niger to hire underage girls as housemaids where they receive poor treatment and make as little as $6 a month. According to UNICEF, “three out of five girls are working in an environment considered as prejudicial to their health and development.” The high fertility rate has led to consistent population growth and large family sizes which makes it difficult for families to sustain themselves solely off their own farming.
  2. The main form of agriculture in Niger is subsistence farming, however, only 11 percent of the land is arable. Even the arable land is extremely dependent on rainfall, with droughts leading to widespread food shortages. When food becomes scarce, Nigerien children, like 12-year-old Oumar Soumana, must drop out of school and look for work to support their families: “It is a painful job for me… I spend the whole day walking. I do not really rest because I have to sell and bring the money back.”
  3. Roughly 48 percent of Niger’s population is 14 or younger. Niger’s population is increasing so fast, its median age is an alarming 15 years old. Food production is not matching the increasing population of Niger. Lack of consistent rainfall makes it very difficult for rural families to avoid malnourishment. When it does rain, families use their children for labor to try and maximize their food production. This is back-breaking work includes hand planting seeds in rough soil during extreme heat.
  4. According to a report by UNESCO, 42.9 percent of Nigerien children between five and 14 are working instead of going to school. This, coupled with only 70 percent of children in Niger completing elementary school, greatly limits their educational opportunities. Article 23 of Niger’s constitution provides free public education, but experts claim that instituting compulsory education would help keep even more children in schools.
  5. The insurgent Islamist group Boko Haram has contributed to Niger’s child labor crisis with its kidnapping of Nigerien children. Boko Haram uses children mainly for menial labor like cooking and cleaning, but in the past, they have used children for suicide bombings. While Boko Haram agreed to stop using children in 2017, there are still thousands of children missing. Additionally, children who formerly worked as child soldiers receive discrimination at an alarming rate.
  6. Many of the children who do not attend school and enter the workforce experience harsh working environments. “Uneducated, these children grow up in very miserable conditions: long working hours, low wages, no food. Furthermore, they run the risk of becoming victims of prostitution, discrimination, abuse, etc.” Additionally, children whose parents did not register them at birth and “lack the appropriate official papers, are not recognized as members of society and cannot exercise their rights.” These children are severely unprotected from life-threatening situations because their rural families were not aware of Niger’s birth registration law.
  7. Part of the reason why child labor in Niger is so prevalent is that the government either lacks regulation prohibiting these practices or it fails to adequately enforce its laws. In 2017, Niger took a significant step forward in combatting its child labor crisis by increasing the minimum age for hazardous work to 18 and increasing the number of jobs under the hazardous label. People under 18 can no longer work at jobs like quarrying, mining, welding and construction.
  8. While article 14 in Niger’s constitution outlaws forced labor, ethnic minorities like the Touaregs have a history of enslavement. Certain Nigerien traditions effectively endorse child slave labor. Whether it be the purchasing of young girls to serve as fifth wives or Wahaya, or koranic teachers forcing their pupils to beg on the streets and surrender their earnings, slavery is still prevalent in Niger.
  9. Niger is not ignoring the unfortunate truth that slavery still exists. With the help of the group Anti-Slavery International, Niger has successfully prosecuted men engaging in the fifth wife practice. This group also joined forces with a local Nigerien organization called Timidria and opened six elementary schools for descendants of slaves.
  10. These 10 facts about child labor in Niger illuminate the issue of child labor that the country must solve. Social programs funded by the Nigerien Government and other nongovernmental organizations like UNICEF are attempting to combat the crisis. In 2017, both of these groups ran 34 centers tasked with providing “food, shelter, education, and vocational training to street children, many of whom are victims of child labor.”

While most of these 10 facts about child labor Niger are disheartening, there is evidence that the situation is improving. For instance, a 45-year-old Nigerien woman named Tatinatt was a slave for the majority of her life, but today she is free and her youngest children are the first ones in her family who are attending school instead of entering the workforce. Hopefully, exposure to this crisis will galvanize more groups into focusing their resources on ending child labor in Niger.

Myles McBride Roach
Photo: Flickr

Making of a Child SoldierAlthough using children as soldiers is horrifying and illegal, recruiters are employing children every day. In fact, as the war in the Middle East spreads, these recruiters are enlisting children more frequently than before. The extremist groups in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, are breaking international war laws on a daily basis in using child soldiers. It is a constant battle for these children as they often have to choose between becoming a soldier and living or becoming another victim of the war.

The Making of a Child Soldier

In recent years, the number of children recruited to fight in the Middle East has doubled, which means more children are becoming being put in danger. Not only is there an emotional and physical battle for these children but also for the soldiers that are fighting against the extremist groups. With the war continuing in Iran, nearly 200 child soldiers have been killed in the last couple of years. In October 2018, there were still 19,000 children who were laying their lives on the line in South Sudan. Many of these children are in poverty and do not know where to turn next.

The making of a child soldier is complicated and influenced by the child’s circumstances. Since several African and Middle Eastern countries are in the middle of a war crisis, families are more likely to become displaced and slide deeper into poverty. Sudanese soldiers are offering families up to $10,000 to send their children to fight the war in Yemen although Saudi Arabia has denied their recruitment. That amount of money is huge to families that have been living on the streets. Several reports state that these Sudanese children fighters make 20 cents a day in the war.

Being poor, separated from their families and without access to education can all contribute to making a child soldier. Often, recruiters are more likely to employ children as soldiers due to the fact that they are more manageable, more obedient and easier manipulate than adults. Children who are forced to be soldiers are given jobs like spying, guarding low-security sites and detecting mines. People do not often see these children on the front line although they can be involved in attacks. In the first months of 2015, 21 children died in suicide attacks using explosive-packed vehicles.

The Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iran Government

Although these crimes are affecting the world’s most innocent and vulnerable population, several organizations are bringing hope to the children of the Middle East. Recently, the Syrian Democratic Forces have enforced a ban on using child soldiers in the war against the increasing extremist groups. The U.S. backed them on this movement. Additionally, the Treasury Department targeted ad networks of banks and businesses that have been supporting the funding of child soldiers.

Wars in the Middle East have raged for several years, and recruiters are taking advantage of the vulnerable population, but some are fighting back. Governments are undergoing initiatives and uniting together to help enforce protection for vulnerable children recruiters are most likely single out as child soldiers.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Child Labor in Uganda

Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa whose central location makes it an important destination for trade and tourism. However, large economic disparities and high unemployment levels have led to a rise in the crime of human trafficking. Inadequate funding of law enforcement units and high levels of poverty make the general population of Uganda vulnerable to human trafficking, including children. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Uganda.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Uganda

  1. Sex trafficking: According to the United States Bureau of International Labor Affairs, children in Uganda are subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sex trafficking. Minors from the Karamoja region are trafficked to Kampala and other large urban areas where demand for child labor and sex slavery is high. Children from neighboring countries such as South Sudan, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also exploited in forced agricultural labor and sex trafficking in Uganda.
  2. Education: Limited access to education makes children particularly vulnerable to forced labor. The law provides free public education; however, the cost of school materials such as uniforms and writing utensils make access to education a challenge for many. In addition to the barriers to accessing education, children often experience physical and sexual abuse at school by teachers and peers.
  3. Rural areas: Children from rural areas are about three times more likely to be trafficked into child labor than city children. The child employment rate in rural areas is 34 percent while in urban areas it is 11 percent. In Kampala, only three percent of children are employed illegally, while 45 percent of children in the central region are employed.
  4. Sectors of child labor: In Uganda, child labor is broken up into four categories:
    • Industry sector: Children are forced to mine, work in quarries or make bricks.
    • Service sector: Children work in the streets selling products and collecting and selling scrap metal.
    • Agriculture sector: Children work in industries of tobacco, coffee and sugar cane.
    • Worst forms: Children are sold into commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking or forced to labor in agriculture. Sometimes minors are used for illegal activities such as smuggling and stealing as well.
  5. Lord’s Resistance Army: The “worst forms” category is mainly related to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group in northern Uganda, founded by Joseph Kony. The group has been active since 1987 and has been known to kidnap children and force girls into sex slavery. The group also trafficks boys as child soldiers and uses brainwashing techniques to ensure their loyalty. Eighty percent of the LRA members are children. From 1987 to 2009, approximately 38,000 children were kidnapped. Girls were employed as cooks and sex slaves for the LRA soldiers, while boys must learn to kill or be killed.
  6. Fighting child labor: In 2012, the government took the first steps in creating legislation to get rid of the worst forms of child labor. The Ugandan government started the National Action Plan (NAP) and created a Counter-Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) office and an inter-ministerial Task Force to organize anti-trafficking strategies.
  7. Legal work age: Ugandan law prohibits the labor of children under 12 years of age. National labor legislation forbids the involvement of children aged 12–13 in any form of employment except for light work that is supervised by an adult older than 18 years of age. “Light work” must not get in the way of the child’s education.
  8. Ensuring education: Right now children in Uganda are only required to attend school up until age 13, however, in 2016, the government passed the Children (Amendment) Act which establishes the age of 16 as the minimum age for work. The act also criminalizes the sex trafficking of children. The act is meant to encourage children to stay in school since they legally cannot work until 16 years of age.
  9. Humanium: The international non-governmental organization, Humanium, works in Uganda to combat the abuse of children’s rights. They have set out six policies that must be implemented to combat child labor. These include:
    • Education and second chance learning: These are essential for reintegrating adults into society who have been harmed through forced child labor.
    • Expand social protection: Serve to prevent vulnerable households from having to resort to child labor to support their families.
    • Promote greater public awareness: Providing information on child labor can increase public outrage and support for child protective legislation.
    • Promote social mobilization against child labor.
    • Strengthen child labor inspections and monitoring.
    • Advocacy of political commitment: This is essential to ensure that child labor reduction policies occur.
  10. The Human Trafficking Institute: The Human Trafficking Institute is working closely with the Ugandan government. So far they have approved the creation of a specialized Human Trafficking Department in the Ugandan police force. The department is supposed to have over 250 staff members as well as specialized human trafficking officers posted across the country. The department will support the rehabilitation of trafficking victims and a crackdown on other forms of child labor.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr