child soldiers
More than 250 children have been freed from a South Sudanese militant group called The South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction. The militia has been fighting for four years, hoping to win greater rights for the Murle ethnic group.

After a peace agreement between the militia and President Salva Kiir’s government was finalized, the boys, ages 11-17, were released after years of toting AK-47s, raiding homes and cattle farms and taking part in deadly revenge attacks throughout South Sudan. Hundreds gathered in Gumuruk, South Sudan to watch the child soldiers be released back to their homes and families, although many have been displaced or killed.

The release of the 280 boys is the first of a series of releases that will eventually free an estimated 3,000 children from the militia. According to UNICEF, approximately 12,000 children have been forcibly recruited by armed groups to fight the civil war, which has increasingly worsened since December of 2013.

South Sudan has been riddled with violence and poverty for years, and the civil war has provided a cruel security for the young soldiers. One child soldier, 12-year-old Steven, said that he joined the militia willingly three years ago.

“There was nothing for me in Pibor – no roads or hospitals or even schools. Sometimes there was no food … But life in the faction was not good. There is no rest,” reported the child soldier.

Another boy, James, 13-years-old, said he joined after the deaths of his sister, uncle, grandfather and other family members. The military can provide shelter, water, purpose and a sense of safety.

Many of the freed children express their concerns of their unpredictable futures. With more than 1.5 million people displaced since the war, many of the boys have no way to contact their families, if they are even still alive.

At the ceremony on the day of the soldiers’ release, a former leader wiped tears from his eyes as the children recited their military chant for the last time. He said to the young children: “That song you sing, that is an adult struggle.”

UNICEF and many others are working to pave a path to success and peace for the young boys. After witnessing and participating in the horrors of the civil war, the boys are left with nightmares and instability. Counseling and social support will be provided to each child, depending on individual experiences and reactions. Family tracing units have been set up and hope to reunite as many children as possible with families. The most important thing to provide for these children is a sense of normalcy and a protective environment, free from violence and war. Many of the young boys are most looking forward to education.

“I don’t know how long I’ve lived in the faction— I don’t know how to count. I want to go to school now. I have never been to school,” said Joseph an 11-year-old.

The release of the child soldiers and the peace agreement gives a small sense of hope that the end of a civil war in South Sudan may be near.

Alaina Grote

Sources: BBC, Euro News, The Guardian, Reuters, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Photo: Amazon AWS

Malian Children Imprisoned as Adults - The Borgen Project
In late August, Amnesty International reported that Malian children were being held in jails alongside adults.

The detainees were believed to be under the age of 18 and arrested after being accused of belonging to militias and participating in activities of unrest.

Ages of the children were not questioned—although one child’s birth certificate verified he was merely 16—as they were placed in the adult section of the capital’s prison and police camp, which Amnesty reported were “sub-human.”

Along with the charge of international law violations, Amnesty said the children were, “subjected to various forms of human rights violations whilst in detention, including being constantly confined to their cells and not being allowed outside their prison cells to go for exercise.”

In addition to the horrific conditions listed, not only were these four children imprisoned with adults, Amnesty reported that the Malian authorities violated international law; the children were not allowed access to lawyers or their families.

While the four children mentioned were eventually released, Amnesty said Mali has continued to arrest children believed to be involved in militias.

The arrests of child soldiers and the surge of militias has been seen in Northern Mali since the military coup d’etat. The region was first controlled by separatists and then later by extremists linked to al- Qaeda.

Intervention by the French drove out the extremists but their hand in conflict can still be seen today.

– Kori Withers

Sources: Yahoo News 1, Yahoo News 2, Northwestern University
Photo: Blogspot

child soldiers
Since 2013, various countries have taken steps to end child soldiering in order to meet international human rights standards.

In accordance with these standards, the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar Armed Forces, has released 176 child soldiers since signing a joint action plan to end the recruiting of children for military service.

Earlier this year, Yemen signed an action plan with the United Nations to end recruitment of child soldiers and by doing so, “formalized its commitment to protect its future generations,” says Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

Similarly, UNICEF and partners arranged for the release of over 1,000 children from military service in the Central African Republic after the country made headlines earlier this year for having over 6,000 children involved in armed conflict.

It is estimated that there are 300,000 child soldiers in the world today, and 40 percent of armed forces around the world use children to fight in their battles. Although the thought of a child soldier is foreign to Americans and citizens of developed countries, it is all too familiar to those of undeveloped nations. Child Soldiers International has reported that since January 2011, the use of child soldiers has been found in 19 different countries.

Children are taken by militias to fight because children are far more malleable than adults. They are also less costly due to the fact that they are given fewer resources and smaller weapons – although they are more likely to be seen on the front lines. Because of this, children are more likely to die in battle than adult soldiers.

Children who survive have lasting psychological effects, which include PTSD and stunted mental development. When there is failure to integrate back into society, there’s a likely chance these once child soldiers will return to battle because it’s all they’ve known.

If the children are released from duty with the help of UNICEF, like in the Central African Republic, they meet with social workers, are taken to a transition center where they can receive an education or learn a vocational skill and are given help in locating their families.

Upon the release of the child soldiers, UNICEF Representative in the Central African Republic Souleymane Diabaté said, “Every single child we spoke to said they wanted to leave the armed group and return to school. We cannot fail them.”

– Kori Withers

Sources: Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers International: FAQ, Forbes, United States Institute of Peace, UN News Centre, UNICEF Press Centre 1, UNICEF Press Centre 2, UNICEF Connect
Photo: UN

child soldier facts -borgen project
When the word “soldier” comes to mind many people think of a strong heroic adult who is fighting for their country. Many people think of a soldier as a person who has voluntarily put their life at risk once again for their country. But many people when they hear the word “soldier” do not think of children. When people hear the words “kids or children” they often think of a young person in school who enjoys playing. People most often think of a child as a young person with few responsibilities and very little stress. But for millions of children around the world this is not the case, many of them are recruited by governments to fight in wars. They are called child soldiers.

Top 10 Facts about Child Soldiers:

  1. Child soldiers are children under the age of 18 who are recruited by armed groups who use children as shields, cooks, suicide bombers, fighters, spies, messengers and/or for sexual purposes.
  2. Some children are under the age of 10 when they are forced to serve.
  3. Children who are forced to serve as soldiers most likely are displaced, poor, have little access to education or live in war zones.
  4. Some children willingly volunteer themselves as child soldiers because they believe it will give them a form of income and/or security.
  5. 10 to 30 percent of kid soldiers are girls. They are used for fighting and are especially vulnerable to sexual violence they are also given to commanders as wives.
  6. The following countries have reported use of child soldiers since 2011: Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mali, Pakistan, Thailand, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and more.
  7. In 2007 there were between 7,000 to 10,000 child soldiers in combat although there was a government agreement in the District of Chad to demobilize the recruitment of child soldiers.
  8. Since there have been many technological advances in the making of war weapons they have been made real easy to use, which has contributed to the increase in child soldiers.
  9. Some child soldiers are forced to act violently against their families and communities to make sure they do not return home.
  10. Since 2001 child soldiers have been recruited in 21 armed conflicts all around the world.

Children’s childhoods and human rights are taken away once they are recruited to become child soldiers. Many of them are brainwashed to think it is okay to be serving in war zones at such a young age and often end up having psychological problems.

— Priscilla Rodarte

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Do Something
Photo: IB Times

 

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As Syria enters its fourth year in a civil battle, Human Rights Watch has reported certain Syrian groups are using child soldiers as young as 15 for battle and suicide missions. HRW has named extremist Islamic groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS,) as specifically baiting children through the false promise of free educational opportunity. According to international law, armed group leaders who recruit child soldiers can be tried as war criminals.

Majed was only 12 years old when he started spending time with members of the Islamic terrorist group, Nusra Front. Like many other groups, Nusra Front masked their true intentions behind educational opportunities, and once they had reeled in a significant group of followers, social pressure would do the rest. Amr, 17, fought with an extremist Islamist group in northern Syria at just 15, where children were “encouraged” to participate in suicide bombings. His friends had signed on, so Amr felt pressured to follow suit — though he was able to get away just before his turn came up.

While the actual number of child soldiers in Syria is unknown, the Violations Documenting Center, a Syrian monitoring group, has recorded at least 194 deaths of “non-civilian” male children since 2011. These children (male and female) are being used to fight in battles, act as snipers, participate in suicide bombing missions, treat the wounded on battlefields and carry ammunition to and from the front lines.

The Syrian government has been subject to an array of horrific crimes, including recent reports of government forces dropping chlorine bombs on citizens, including children. Now, with armed opposition groups sending children to fight, the civil battle has resulted in a double-edged sword: one which Syrian children are falling victim to.

Children who want to leave armed groups are left with few options and lack of social support. Saleh, 17, has fought with the Free Syrian Army since he was 15 after he was detained and tortured by government forces. After years of fighting, Saleh has often wished for a different life. “I thought of leaving [the fighting] a lot,” he said. “I lost my studies, I lost my future, I lost everything.”

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time
Photo: Naij

child labor facts
The act of using children for free or cheap labor has been around for centuries, and while it is not often brought up in conversation, this dirty little secret lives on in numerous countries, including the U.S.

Here are eight Child Labor facts from all over the world:

1.  Child labor is not just something that happens overseas
China, Asia and Africa are not the only nations that use children for cheap labor. Tobacco fields in the U.S. use young children to pick the plants. These children are exposed to dangerous pesticides and nicotine on a regular basis and sometimes get so sick they can hardly stand.

2. Child labor in tobacco fields is legal in the U.S.
The U.S. allows children as young as 11 to legally work in tobacco fields where they spray harmful chemicals so close to them they can hardly breathe. To put this in perspective: a child working in tobacco fields is illegal in countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, but is legal in the United States.

3.  Pakistan participates in selling children as slaves
Children in Pakistan can be sold by their parents or, more often, are abducted and sold into slavery to companies for profit. Companies that have utilized this backwards practice include Nike and the Punjub province, which is the largest seller of stitched rugs, musical instruments and sports equipment.

4.   Afghanistan gives away young girls to pay off debts
Another fact about child labor comes from Afghanistan where children make up roughly half of the population. Children often work in the textile industry, the poppy fields, cement and food processing. Parents may also sell their underage daughters into slavery in order to pay off a debt.

5.  Zimbabwe’s Learn as You Earn Program
The Learn as You Earn Program in Zimbabwe may not sound too bad at first glance, but it is another ploy to bring in children for cheap labor. The program brings children into the forestry and agricultural sectors so they can “learn” about those markets. Children often choose this in place of a formal education.

6.  Child Soldiers
Children who are displaced in war-torn countries like Afghanistan or Sudan are often put to work as child soldiers. These children are given guns and minor training and are told to defend their country. Some children may even be used as suicide bombers.

7.  Underage girls and sexual slavery
Young girls from all over the world who are either displaced by war, abducted while visiting foreign countries or even sold by their parents for money often find themselves in forced sexual slavery.  This problem is growing in Sudan, Somalia, Thailand, Japan, India and the United States.

8.  North Korea outlaws underage labor, continues to hire children
The government of North Korea officially outlawed child labor, but children still make up a large percentage of the people who work in factories. They also have labor camps where they send children to work in order to be re-educated for any type of political offenses.

These facts about child labor around the world can seem gruesome and a maybe a little far-fetched, but the point is that there are children who live these nightmares every single day.

– Cara Morgan

Sources: Business Insider, CNN, The Nation
Photo: Flickr

MEND seamstresses
After being abducted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of 13, Grace survived two years in the Northern Ugandan bush before she was able to escape. Today, Grace, among 22 other formerly abducted women, are employed as seamstresses by an organization known as Mend.

Since 1987, Kony’s army has abducted over 30,000 children, forcing them to become soldiers in his army or wives to his soldiers.

Grace, among thousands of other women, suffered the physical, emotional, and mental pain of being held captive by these men. Although the seamstresses were fortunate to escape, many were ostracized by friends and family upon return due to involvement with the rebels. In order to address these issues and work through traumatization, all of the women employed by Mend received three months of counseling and tailoring training through Invisible Children.

The Invisible Children is an organization that began in 2006 as an initiative to end the LRA conflict in Uganda. In addition to establishing numerous campaigns that rehabilitate and educate formerly abducted people, Invisible Children formed Mend as a social enterprise in 2009 in order to give women employment opportunities and create awareness around circumstances in Uganda.

As their Mother’s Day promotion, Mend seamstresses created beautiful limited edition clutches for women to receive on Mother’s Day. The clutches are a thoughtful gift for a mother that supports a mother in need.

In addition to clutches, MEND seamstresses, like Grace, also sew purses, handbags, and laptop sleeves all specifically designed by the Mend design team. Mend products range anywhere from $35 to $300. “It is an immense responsibility,” designer Juan-David Quinnones shared, “to make something that will last, add value to people’s lives, and tell an amazing story.” As Quinnones refers to, each bag shares a message from the woman who created it through a tag that has her picture and story on it.

When asked “Where did you get that great bag,” customers have the opportunity to share not only where their bag is from, but also who made it and why. Exchanges like these, thanks to Mend’s dedication, has transformed consumerism into a form of activism.

“One of our bottom lines is the growth of our seamstresses in all aspects of their lives,” professed Mend director Chris Sarette. In addition to the employment opportunity, Mend provides their seamstresses with a full-time social worker, literacy classes, and financial meetings to help the women grow holistically, for themselves and their families.

The Invisible Children Shop

– Heather Klosterman

Sources: Mend
Photo: MPc Magazine 

human_rights_violations_somalia
The history of human rights violations against Somali citizens by their government under the rule of Siad Barre contributed to an overthrow that forced him to flee in 1991. The subsequent power vacuum led to the Somali civil war that continues to rage on to this day. For over 23 years, Somalia has been ravaged by human rights abuses, war crimes and the lack of a developed justice system to deal with these issues.

The main players at this moment are the Islamic backed forces, al-Shabaab, and the pro-government forces, the Federal Republic of Somalia, Ethiopian troops and African Union troops operating under the African Union Mission to Somalia. While the faces have changed throughout the 23 year conflict, the main points of contention  remain the same.

The Islamic forces wish for the country to become an Islamic state ruled under Sharia law, while government forces aim for the country to follow through with the constitution that founded the federal republic in 2012. Major human rights violations are committed on both sides of the Civil War, limiting positive change in the country.

Human rights violations include indiscriminate attacks against civilians, displacement of persons, restrictions on humanitarian aid, rape, recruitment and use of child soldiers, unlawful killings and torture by armed groups and armed piracy off the Somali coast. Various treaties including the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights forbid the indiscriminate use of force against civilians. According to Amnesty International, “all parties to the conflict use mortars and heavy weapons in areas populated or frequented by civilians, killing and injuring thousands of people, many of which are women and children under the age of 14.”

The killings not only affect those being killed, but they also the education of the Somalis. A report by Amnesty International states that, “in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, many schools have closed down as students and teachers fear being injured and killed on their way to school.” These indiscriminate killings by forces on both sides will lead to the further destruction of the country and its future. The Somalis need to continue their education in order to push the country towards a better path.

The topic of child soldiers has gained popularity in the last few years due to campaigns such as “Kony 2012.” The use of child soldiers is not limited to Uganda, however, and Somalia is a prime example of the horrible atrocities that occur while using them. According to a January 2013 Human Rights Watch report, “al-Shabaab has increasingly targeted children for recruitment, forced marriage, and rape, and has attacked teachers and schools.”

However, government forces have also used child soldiers, as described later in the same article. “In July 2012, the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] signed a plan of action against child recruitment; yet the same month, 15 children were identified among a group of new recruits sent to a European Union-funded training in Uganda.” Abuses are occurring on on both sides of the conflict, and further action may need to be taken by outside parties.

The problems with human rights violations occurring in Somalia do not seem to be getting any better. Unfortunately, humanitarian access to those who need aid is limited at the moment because of restrictions from allies to the conflict, diversion of aid and insecurity. The few humanitarian workers still in the country are being targeted, further limiting access to much needed aid.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Global Post

china's soldiers
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the largest army in the world, recently released a report on the physical well-being of its troops. The study, published in the PLA’s official newspaper, reported that China’s soldiers have gotten physically bigger in recent years, growing .8 inches taller and two inches larger around the waist in the last 20 years.

While this increase in size has caused some problems with army equipment, experts are celebrating the news and attributing better nutrition in China for the growth.

Malnutrition has long been a problem in China, especially in rural areas. Poor Chinese soldiers were traditionally more likely to be malnourished and underweight. As China modernized, so did its military, which was forced to design its own military technology due to trade sanctions.

The equipment created during this period, however, is based on a now-outdated body type. Rifle butts are proving too short for soldier’s arms; tanks are becoming more crowded by the bigger average bodies of soldiers.

The United States military is experiencing similar problems, but it is largely due to higher obesity rates.

The size increase in both the U.S. and China is related to development. As China has modernized and become a wealthier nation, the Chinese population, including China’s soldiers, have become more nourished. In the case of the U.S., as nations move from middle-income to high-income status, obesity rates tend to increase.

Experts warn that as the nation continues to develop, China may be headed on the path towards an obesity problem.

According to the World Health Organization, only 5 percent of Chinese people are obese, but that figure can jump to 20 percent in certain parts of the country. Furthermore, 45 percent of Chinese men and 32 percent of women are overweight.

Youth in urban areas are those particularly represented in the increased obesity rates, with wealthier people having higher obesity rates than those with less money. This economic link to obesity is the opposite of many nations such as the U.S.

Along with greater wealth, access to fast food and better nutrition, placing less emphasis on physical activities starting in childhood is contributing to the average size increase of Chinese people.

Athena Foong of University of Southern California’s Institute for Global Health explains, “The only way people look at the way you advance in life [in China] is getting a better education so you can get a better job, and sports is not considered a job.”

Despite rising obesity rates, many Chinese people are also still going hungry. In China, there are roughly 12.7 million children with stunted physical growth caused by chronic nutritional deficiency in the first 1,000 days of life. In low-income, rural parts of the country, 10 percent of children under the age of 5 have stunted growth.

While these figures are concerning, they have also been steadily declining in recent decades. In 1987, 22 percent of Chinese people were underweight. This number decreased to 12 percent by 1992.

Improvements in the health of Chinese people have many causes including economic advances, better access to clean water, increased distribution of food and better health facilities and resources.

China’s rapid development has brought better health and nutrition to its populace, but as long as childhood malnutrition and obesity rates persist and rise, the nation will be combating development-related public health issues.

– Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: The Washington Post, Telegraph, UNICEF, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization, US-China Today, National Geographic, Financial Times
Photo: Growing Taller

Ishmael_Beah_child_soldiers
These three African men have used their horrific childhoods as fuel for activism to heal and prevent the abuse of future children.

Ishmael Beah – Author and UN Ambassador

During Sierra Leone’s civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, 12-year-old Beah became separated from his family and wandered the country with a group of other children. The group stumbled across a battalion of anti-rebel soldiers and the children were taken in and taught to kill.

Beah was rescued by UNICEF after living as a soldier for two years, and was taken to a rehab center where he struggled for eight months to remember who he was before the war. When he was 17, Beah was adopted by a member of UNICEF as a means to get out of Sierra Leone and attend school.

It was during his time at Oberlin College in Ohio that he wrote “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” which Beah claims he never meant to publish, but wrote to “find a way to give the human context that was missing in the way the issue of child soldiers were discussed.” His book has become a best-seller, and Beah has recently released his second book, “Radiance of Tomorrow.”

Beah is now a UN ambassador for children affected by war, and he travels with UNICEF to work with former-child soldiers. He remembers what it was like to suddenly find himself expected to be a kid again, and he wants former child-soldiers to know that they have options – that they can choose to live a life devoid of war.

Ricky Anywar Richard – Founder of Friends of Orphans (FRO)

At 14, Ricky was forced to watch as his entire family was corralled into their house, locked in, and burned alive. He was then bound into a service of slavery for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of northern Uganda where he regularly witnessed torture, rape, and murder.

He was one of the few who managed to escape and, after obtaining his degree, he set up Friends of Orphans (FRO), an organization that works to reintegrate former child-soldiers back into village life and provide them with the therapy and education necessary to become peaceful members of society. So far, the organization has helped 25,000 children attend school and learn a trade.

The organization also educates those with HIV/AIDs on how to deal with their disease and prevent further transmission. They have distributed over 100,000 condoms since beginning the program.

FRO has been awarded the John Templeton Foundation ‘Freedom Award’ and Ricky was awarded the ‘World of Children Humanitarian Award’ for his tireless work to provide a life for those who’ve had theirs stolen by war.

Emmanuel Jal – Musician, Activist & Founder of Gua Africa

Growing up in south Sudan, Jal was 7 when his father left to join the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), his mother was killed by soldiers and he saw his aunt raped. He was promised an education in Ethiopia as part of a group of kids, but upon arrival they were forced to become soldiers of the SPLA.

After nearly five years living as a soldier, Jal was rescued by British aid worker Emma McCune, who smuggled him into Kenya. When McCune was killed, Jal completed his education and now makes it his life’s work to share his story and is an advocate for the Make Poverty History campaign, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Control Arms campaign.

Jal has made a name for himself as a recording artist, releasing the album ‘War Child’ as well as a film and autobiographical book both under the same name. He travels the world speaking on the global issues that have played a hand in his life, and he’s most recently appeared at the TED Global Conference in Oxford.

Jal stresses that education is the only way to move forward and prevent further genocides, and has founded Gua Africa, a foundation to educate children. After being disappointed with the level of donations he recently embarked to eat only one meal a day, something he says is regular for the people in his country, and he donates the unspent money to his own organization.

-Lydia Caswell

Sources: CNN, Gariwo , Friends of Orphans , Huffington Post , Emmanuel Jal, Gua Africa
Photo: Tallawah Magazine