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Child Soldiers in EthiopiaEthiopia’s long history of armed conflicts endangers the well-being of children, subjecting them to trauma and putting them at risk of recruitment for combat. Child soldiers in Ethiopia are continuously caught between the chaos of conflict and political instability. Their rights are violated as they find themselves susceptible to physical harm, sexual violence and abductions.

Conflict Background

The debris of the Tigray War, which ended in 2022, has brought a new internal conflict to the country. Ethnic relations and political tensions between Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) caused the Tigray War to break out in 2020. The TPLF had previously been the leading force in control of the federal government, opposing Ahmed’s agenda. The Tigray War was notably characterized by ethnic violence and became of international concern.

During the war, the TPLF army used child soldiers in Ethiopia as a shield, positioning them on the front lines of the war zone. While the use of child soldiers is a violation of human rights and international law, the TPLF denies the proven accusations, stating that the children are only used to collect and gather weapons left behind.

After the war and under the premise of wanting to minimize crime based on ethnicity, the Ethiopian government began fighting militias and regional forces. This even included ones to which the government was an ally during the Tigray War, most notably the regional forces of Amhara. According to a 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia published by the U.S. Department of State, both militias and the government are using child soldiers in Ethiopia in the current conflict. The Ethiopian government also denies the allegations.

Becoming Child Soldiers

Children become child soldiers for different reasons. Some are kidnapped; others are threatened or manipulated into joining. Armed forces favor kids for their physical endurance and because they raise fewer suspicions. However, some of them become soldiers as a way to escape poverty.

Child soldiers are not only those on the front lines; they are also used in war in any other capacity. This includes using children as cooks, spies or most recently suicide bombers. Girls who are recruited are subject to gender-specific vulnerabilities such as sexual assault, sex trafficking and unwanted pregnancies.

The Fight Against Child Soldiers

Child soldiers are victims who are forced onto battlefields and manipulated to stay. Many struggle to re-integrate into society when conflicts are over and face discrimination by their families and communities.

Organizations such as Children and Armed Conflict, part of the United Nations, focus on combating the recruitment of children for war. As stated on the site, “The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child outlaws child soldiering, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child established 18 as the minimum age for children’s participation in hostilities.”

The campaign Children, Not Soldiers, launched in 2014, achieved a wide range of success in the fight against child soldiers. Despite ending only two years later, long-lasting actions were achieved, such as the end and prevention of child soldiers in the DRC and Sudan. While the campaign had a major impact in other African countries, Ethiopia did not become part of the campaign.

Ethiopia’s continuous state of conflict endangers children and perpetuates a cycle of child soldier recruitment. While the issue has drawn international attention, there is much more work required to end the phenomenon of child soldiers in Ethiopia.

– Paula Pujol-Gibson
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in GuatemalaMilitary groups worldwide recruit children and although the U.N. has put measures in place to prevent this, the issue is still prevalent. Their roles are not restricted to only soldiers or gunmen, but spies, messengers, sex slaves and suicide bombers. The U.N. receives regular “reports of children as young as 8 or 9 years old associated with armed groups”. When discussing child soldiers in Guatemala in the present day, separating state and non-state armed groups is essential. Guatemala’s gangs and guerrilla groups rely on child recruitment and, as these are not state institutions, these groups are harder to study or control.

Child Soldiers in the Civil War

From 1960 to 1996 Guatemala stood as a site of internal conflict. The leftist guerrilla movement Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) fought against the Guatemalan Government in the Civil War. In this 36-year war, it was “common practice” for both the national army and the guerrilla groups to recruit children. There is a lack of information on the exact number of child soldiers involved in the war. However, the U.N. estimates that out of the 3,000 members of the URNG, 214 were under the age of 18. Unfortunately, this lack of data meant that, after the war, child soldiers in Guatemala did not receive compensation, or benefit from any reintegration programs.

Progress

In 1992, the U.N. wrote the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to tackle issues of child safety and exploitation. This states that parties cannot recruit anyone under the age of 15 into the armed forces and pushes the State to take preventative measures.

In 2000, the Optional Protocol to the CRC that focuses on the involvement of children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) raised the age from 15 to 18. Guatemala signed both of these documents, however, there is no evidence of progress.

Military Schools

Guatemala’s military schools are a key example of how the state is still subjecting children to violence and ignoring the concerns raised in the CRC and OPAC. Children in these military schools take part in combat training and weapons handling. Many of these military schools do not meet the government’s educational standards and there are numerous complaints of the use of corporal punishment. Child Rights International Network (CRIN) revealed that in 2016 at least three students reported rape by soldiers at the military school Adolfo V Hall.

Even if these children are not legally members of the armed forces until they are adults, they are still victims to and witnesses of violence at such a young age. In these cases, differentiating voluntary and coerced enlisting is extremely difficult.

Child Soldiers in Gangs

Maras are a type of gang in Guatemala and the 2023 CRIN report shows that recruitment is hard to regulate as maras control large residential areas.

The Maras specifically target children on their way to and from school. These children are coerced and threatened into becoming spies or gunmen and many children have been murdered on their way to school for refusing to take part. According to a 2023 CRIN report “Save the Children reports that children as young as 6 are recruited to transport guns…and have been coerced into homicides as young as 13.” This has had a detrimental impact on education. School is no longer a space of safety and learning but “a site of recruitment.” This creates a vicious cycle, as with lower access to education more children turn to gang activity.

Schools of Peace

Save the Children has worked with Guatemalan families suffering from poverty since 1999. In the last year,  Save the Children positively impacted 201,000 young people. Aside from alleviating poverty, Save the Children has created a Schools of Peace project. This project results from education and child protection services working together to prevent any disruption to the education of young people. The initiative interrupts the process of gang recruitment and ensures that schools in Guatemala have the right protection from any danger due to armed conflict.

Save the Children tells the story of 16-year-old Estrella, a daughter of a gang leader. Her life was wrapped in violence and her education was sacrificed until Schools of Peace intervened. She is doing very well at school and works as a youth leader near Las Canoas to help others who have suffered like her.

Toybox

Toybox is a charity that provides young people with safe spaces and communities outside of school. The organization works in the country’s capital, Guatemala City and provides counseling and therapy to young children. It has provided children across the world with psychosocial support. Toybox identified that 10% of annual births in Guatemala are undocumented. This reduces the amount of protection the state can provide in conflict situations.

In 2022, Toybox helped 2,794 children around the world obtain legal identity documents. The charity also holds weekly sports activities to develop and maintain trusting relationships between staff and children. It is setting up a support network for these young people, while also demonstrating that other, more constructive, paths are still viable to children who live under gang rule.

A 2023 CRIN report identifies that poverty exacerbates non-state violence and increases child recruitment. It suggests treating the root cause of poverty to see a drastic difference in the levels of child soldiers in Guatemala. Initiatives such as these are important to show that there is a path out of the violence that dominates their lives.

– Liz Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in ScotlandScotland, as part of the U.K., allows children aged 16 and 17 to enlist in the armed forces. The U.K. is the only country in Europe for which the enlistment of minors is legal, and it is one of 20 countries in the world to allow child soldiers at the age of 16. Furthermore, the Scottish National Party (SNP) does not support the existence of child soldiers in Scotland. Despite representing the majority in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP does not have jurisdiction to overturn the existing law regarding child soldiers because it is a federal matter.  

Legality 

There are currently four main rules in place for child soldiers in Scotland: 

  1. They must obtain parental consent before they enlist. 
  2. Upon entering, they have up to six months to legally withdraw from the army. 
  3. If they do not withdraw after six months, they are required to continue until age 22 unless discharged by a commanding officer. 
  4. Minors do not have permission to enter the front lines until they turn 18, at which point they become legal adults. 

Activists argue the first six months of service are often only enough to include training and preparation and therefore, do not provide the young recruits with sufficient experience to determine whether they want to continue. Furthermore, requiring child soldiers to remain in the army until they are 22 means that they are required to stay in the armed forces for five and sometimes six years — significantly longer than the requirement for adult recruits. 

Negative Effects 

Child soldiers in Scotland face several associated negative risks both during and after their service. For example, MP Carol Monaghan of the SNP has expressed concern over the increased risk of sexual assault for females under 18 in the military. Approximately one out of every 75 females under the age of 18 has reported sexual assault, and experts believe there are many more unreported cases of sexual assault for female soldiers under the age of 18. 

Besides the increased risk of sexual assault, one of the major problems of child soldiers is that those who enlist as minors are much more likely to experience mental health problems after they have finished service, including an increased risk of suicide. 

Additionally, child recruitment overwhelmingly targets children from low-income families in Scottish society. Military briefs in 2018-2019 revealed that children from families with an average income of £10,000 were the main targets of child military recruitment in the UK, which is well below the national average of £32,000

Education levels are one way that the effects of targeted recruitment of kids from low-income families reveal themselves. For instance, the U.K. Ministry of Defense found that around half of recruits possessed a reading level less than or equal to an 11-year-old. This is particularly troublesome as it raises questions about new recruits’ awareness of the terms and conditions of their enlistment. This is illustrated by the fact that the Enlistment Paper, which outlines the terms of service for child soldiers, is quite technical, and therefore, makes it difficult for child recruits with below-average reading skills to fully grasp the terms and conditions of their enlistment. In fact, data reveals that most child soldiers are unaware of their enlistment requirements when they enlist. 

Good News

Although the enlistment of child soldiers in Scotland remains legal, hope is emerging that it will soon be a thing of the past. First, as noted previously, the SNP, which holds a majority in the Scottish Parliament, does not support the legalization of child soldiers and therefore may be able to use its majority position in Westminster to express support for raising the minimum age of recruitment to 18 and, if Scotland gains independence from the U.K., Scotland could eliminate the use of child soldiers. 

Furthermore, multiple international organizations, such as Amnesty International U.K. and the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Child, have actively recommended that the U.K. government raise the minimum age of recruitment to 18. Such continued public pressure by well-known and respected international organizations could go a long way in helping convince members of the U.K. parliament to limit and eventually eliminate the use of child soldiers in Scotland and the U.K. 

Looking Ahead

The enlistment of child soldiers in Scotland and the wider U.K. remains a problem, especially for children of low-income families. However, with the SNP taking a greater role in advocating for the termination of child soldiers and mounting pressure from human rights groups putting more pressure on the U.K. to raise the minimum age enlistment age to 18, there is some hope for the elimination of child soldiers in Scotland. 

– Athan Yanos 
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

7 Facts About Ugandan Child Soldiers
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) began in 1987 in Uganda to rebel against President Yoweri Museveni. Children constitute most of the army. The LRA forces child soldiers in Uganda to commit acts of violence on other minors within the LRA ranks as well as brutalities on their own siblings.

LRA and Child Soldiers in Uganda

Between 1988 and 2004, the LRA abducted 30,000 Ugandan children.

Joseph Kony heads the LRA. He grew up in the northern Ugandan village, Odek. His relative, Alice Auma Lakwena, began a rebel group called The Holy Spirit Movement in 1986 when Museveni seized power. In 1987, Kony declared himself a prophet, changed the name of the group to the LRA and began proclaiming rule based on the Ten Commandments.

In October 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began attempting to arrest Kony. A peace agreement was finalized in April 2008, but the child soldiers in Uganda and neighboring countries remained an issue.

Since 2008, Kony and his forces have been shifting their presence to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic. The LRA Crisis Tracker, a website that reports LRA attacks and notifies email subscribers, lists 27 verified child abductions in these countries in 2018 alone.

Issues with the LRA

The LRA has displaced more than two million people since 1986 thereby increasing poverty in Uganda, especially in the north. However, the relation between the LRA and poverty is not mutually exclusive. The LRA and its brutal use of child soldiers in Uganda is a result of the harsh poverty that Kony and many others in the LRA ranks have experienced. Note the following:

  1. A huge income inequality, rooted in colonialism, exists between northern and southern Uganda’s north and south.
  2. British colonists created a militant north.
  3. The Acholi people have been systematically oppressed.

When the British colonized Uganda in 1860, a centralized government did not exist. They created agricultural and commercial centers in southern Uganda.

This left the north to provide labor. The British found higher success rates in northern Uganda for army recruitment because it provided northerners an opportunity to improve their livelihoods. These divisions continued after Uganda gained independence in 1962.

Acholi

Kony came from the impoverished north and is Acholi, an ethnolinguistic group. Idi Amin Dada, Former Ugandan President from 1971 to 1979, persecuted and executed the Acholi due to their military ties and alignment with Apollo Milton Obote, who was in office as the Prime Minister from 1962 to 1966 and as the President from 1966 to 1971 and then again from 1980 to 1985.

The British created a system where many Acholi people turned to the army to escape extreme poverty and then they were persecuted for it. Poverty and persecution influenced Kony’s disillusionment with the government and his desire to rebel and create child soldiers in Uganda.

However, the LRA’s actions have not combated the root issues of poverty and oppression. The cycle of poverty in Uganda propagates because of Kony and the LRA’s use of Ugandan child soldiers in the following ways:

  1. One of the biggest populations of displaced people now exists in northern and eastern Uganda. Most LRA raids take place at night, so when Kony’s presence was focused in Uganda, mothers and children trying to avoid becoming Ugandan soldiers fled their villages to bigger towns and secure government camps. More than 80 percent of the Acholi people were displaced.
  2. Malnutrition exists within the LRA ranks as well and many Ugandans focused on fleeing for their lives over planting food. This created severe food shortages, particularly in 2004.
  3. A lack of health workers exists because so many of them had to escape the LRA.
  4. Kony and other men in the LRA took many female captives as “wives” and forced them to have more children in order to provide more resources.

Moving Forward in Uganda

Now that most of LRA’s presence is focused elsewhere, Uganda is working to solve its problems. In 2006, 31.1 percent of Ugandans were under the national poverty line, according to The World Bank’s 2016 Uganda Poverty Assessment. In 2013, it went down to 19.7 percent. Northern and eastern Uganda still suffer devastating consequences from Kony’s reign of terror, and the same study reveals that poverty has increased in those regions from 68 percent to 84 percent in those seven years.

In June 2009, the LRA had abducted 491 civilians and caused 484 civilian fatalities in Uganda. While peace is coming to Uganda and its children, the LRA still violently demonstrates its power in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it abducted 124 civilians in 2018.

In June 2018, there have been no reported fatalities or abductions, meaning there are no new child soldiers in Uganda this year. The growing peace in Uganda provides hope that the country’s poverty rate might reduce and that the LRA would not reign indefinitely.

– Charlotte Preston
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About The Nuer of South SudanThe East-Central African country of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011. Since then, the nation of 13 million people has struggled to maintain governance and control due to violent civil conflict. This struggle has lead to a dire humanitarian crisis and four million South Sudanese facing displacement.

The Nuer are a prominent and second most populous ethnic group in South Sudan, contributing to 16 percent, or two million people, of the total population. Given this status, the Nuer have stood at the center of the civil Sudanese conflict for decades. These 10 facts about the Nuer of South Sudan offer insight into an ethnic group afflicted most by the South Sudanese Civil War.

10 facts about the Nuer of South Sudan

  1. The Nuer live in South Sudan in rural swamps and open savannas on both sides of the Nile River. They are located approximately 500 miles south of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Due to the civil conflict, the Nuer also inhabit United Nations refugee camps in the South Sudanese capital city of Juba.Nuer also seek refuge in neighboring countries like Uganda, which hosts over a million refugees. Approximately 2.5 million South Sudanese are seeking refuge or asylum protections. The majority of these refugees are women and children.
  2. The Nuer of South Sudan are cattle raising pastoralists. Horticulture is also commonly practiced, but less desirable. With more than 80 percent of the populace living in rural areas, cattle have historically been both a cultural and religious symbol, signifying wealth as well as an economic livelihood for the Nuer. Cattle are particularly important as a part of bridewealth exchanges.
  3. Since independence, the official language of South Sudan is English, replacing Arabic, but the Nuer traditionally speak the Nuer language. The Nuer language belongs to a subgroup of Nilo-Saharan languages, as a Nilotic language indigenous to the Nile Valley.
  4. Despite a high infant mortality rate , South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. The infant mortality rate stands at 79 infants per 1,000 live births and the under-five mortality rate is 108 per 1,000 live births. Around 45 percent of the country is between zero and 14 years of age.
  5. The Nuer of South Sudan form a cluster of autonomous sections and clans. The North had long sought state control of Nuer land, but neglect of social and political developments provoked two civil wars. This eventually led to South Sudan gaining independence from the North after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 and the Independence Referendum in 2011.There is  no structured political system for the Nuer, generating significant conflict. However, dominant clans often hold more significance and elders often make decisions.
  6. In 2013, Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, was dismissed by the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, over accusations of a coup attempt against the president. In addition to past support for the North by the Nuer, this sparked massive violence; President Salva Kiir ordered the deaths of thousands of Nuer in the Juba Massacre of 2013. These actions prompted the ongoing civil war in South Sudan.
  7. Since the start of the conflict, more than 2.4 million people have been displaced. In the northern part of South Sudan, the United Nations protects civilians in camp Bentiu. Nearly everyone in this camp is Nuer. In February 2017, a group of Dinka soldiers called the Upper Nile State attacked the Bentiu U.N. compound, killing an estimated 300 Nuer civilians.
  8. Thousands of Nuer have faced rape, sexual exploitation and attacks on women outside of Protection of Civilian (POC) sites. Studies show that 65 percent of women and girls in South Sudan have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. According to UNICEF, these incidents have occurred continuously over the past two and a half years, increasing with the outbreak of violence.
  9. International nonprofit and government agencies like the Nuer International Relief Agency (NIRA), The Red Cross, UNICEF and the U.N. provide humanitarian relief, health and education for war-affected and displaced Nuer. In the first three months of 2018, the International Committee of the Red Cross provided 1,675 metric tons of food, improved access to water for 267,000 people and helped 16,000 people reach family members separated by the conflict. Additionally, these agencies actively advocated and lobbied for successful peace and reconciliation as of June 2018, as well for the support of international communities in addressing the crisis.
  10. In May 2018, more than 200 children were released from armed groups in South Sudan. The release was the third this year, totaling to more than 800 child soldiers being freed in 2018. Additional releases are expected in coming months that could result in more than 1,000 children being freed.Despite this success, an estimated 19,000 children continue to serve in armed groups. UNICEF urges for the abolishment of recruitment and for the release of all child soldiers.

These 10 facts about the Nuer of South Sudan show a lot still needs to be done on the ground to address the suffering of Nuer ethnics and all South Sudanese nationals. More than 8 million people are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance in South Sudan. However, on June 28, 2018, warring parties signed a permanent ceasefire in Sudan’s capital city Khartoum, calling for an end to the four-and-a-half year civil war. The agreement, signed by President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and Former Vice-President Riek Machar, a Nuer, represents a significant stride towards peace in South Sudan’s history and resolution of these crises.

– Joseph Ventura

Photo: Flickr

Democratic Republic of CongoDuring the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), from 1998 to 2003, more than 5.2 million children did not receive an education. Although the situation has improved since then, the legacy of the war remains, especially its effect on the female population.

In 2012, it was reported that approximately 62.92 percent of female youth aged 15 years and older were literate compared to an 87.91 percent literacy rate for young males.

Factors Impacting Girls Education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The overarching traditional outlook about the role of females in society: Many families believe that girls have a responsibility at home, while boys should work outside as the main breadwinners. This thinking leads people to discredit education as an important part of girls’ lives, whereas boys are encouraged to attend schools.

Poverty: According to the World Bank, although the poverty rate in the DRC declined from 71 percent to 64 percent between 2005 and 2012, the country still remains one the poorest countries in the world with a ranking of at176 out of 187 countries per the United Nation’s 2015 Human Development Index. As a result of high levels of poverty, many girls take up jobs to support their families.

Opportunities in armed groups: About 30 to 40 percent of children in the armed groups are girls. Girls are often lured into joining local militias because of enticing factors like wages. However, the NGO Child Soldiers International interviewed over 200 female former child soldiers, who reported that instead of finding opportunities within these groups, they were drugged, raped or forced to commit crimes.

For those who are able to escape, they attempt to matriculate into school but are unable to because of the stigma associated with the former sexual relationships between the girls and male soldiers. The same girls who were interviewed cited how they were called “prostitutes” and “HIV carriers” by schools and were not allowed to enroll.  

Solutions

To resolve the issue of lack of girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the nation is reforming its system so that more children are able to pursue an education. For example, the DRC has increased its education budget from 7.9 percent in 2012 to 14.7 percent in 2015. In addition, the government has received a $100 million grant from the Global Partnership for Education to continue its efforts. 

Moreover, USAID and the United Kingdom Department for International Development have funded a five-year education program that focuses on reading outcomes in the DRC. It is the largest implemented education program in the DRC and plans to improve the reading outcomes of 1.5 million grades 1-4 students.

Furthermore, USAID has worked to create safe school environments, especially for girls, by training teachers and administrators on how to assess safety and security at the school. Through this, girls will not have to fear for their safety, the lack of which also caused them to join militias.

The results of these actions are clear in the numbers. In 2016, UNESCO reported that approximately 66.5 percent of females aged 15 years and older were literate. Although a small increase, this is still an improvement from 2012. 

Girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has faced many obstacles. However, the country is combating this crisis and ensuring that all children are provided with this opportunity, an action that other underdeveloped countries should follow.

Sheharbano Jafry
Photo: Flickr

Child soldiers in Afghanistan
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.

 

Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Yemen child soldiers
As of March 2015, the United Nations has confirmed that at least 2,369 children have been recruited as Yemen child soldiers. Some of these children are engaged in active combat.

Child recruits in the Middle East and North Africa have doubled within a year as of 2017. According to southern Yemeni officials, there may be as many as 6,000 child soldiers throughout the country and 20,000 are in need of war rehabilitation. The situation in Yemen has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 18.8 million people needing aid and seven million going hungry.

The United Nations has argued that children and young people are receiving the worst of the conflict’s repercussions. The organization claims Houthis were responsible for 359 of 517 cases of Yemen child soldiers in 2016; 76 were recruited by government-backed groups like the Popular Resistance and the coalition. Others were recruited by Al Qaeda and its associated groups.

The Yemen conflict was set in motion in 2014 when the northern Shiite Muslim rebels, or the Houthis, allied themselves with the military and took over the Yemeni capital of Sana and other cities due to discontent with the government and president. In retaliation for the Houthis’ strike against the government, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations became involved in the conflict.

Since 2015, Saudi airstrikes have been led in an attempt to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. The Houthis, backed by Iran, and the Saudis, backed by the U.S., U.K. and France, effectively tore the country apart with their fighting, splitting it between the north and the south.

In some ways, the destruction and conflict have forced families to view their children as valuable resources. The child soldiers’ pay of $55 every three months may be necessary to keep the family afloat, while female children are married off in exchange for a dowry. Furthermore, recruits are given a hot meal daily; 47 percent of Yemeni children suffer from stunting due to malnourishment.

The Houthis have promised monthly allowances of $80-120 to the families of child soldiers in the event that their children were to die. The group will print posters in memory of fallen Yemen child soldiers, as well.

Continuous violence and destroyed infrastructure puts civilians, and especially children, in a precarious situation.“With no end in sight to these conflicts and with families’ dwindling financial resources, many have no choice but to send their children to work or marry their daughters early,” UNICEF’s Regional Director Geert Cappelaere explained to The Guardian.

In 2014, the Yemeni government signed an action plan with the U.N. that contained a list of stipulations to ensure that there would be no more use of child soldiers. Unfortunately, progress on this front has been stalled due to the conflict and the issue of Yemen child soldiers has not yet been resolved.

Still, organizations like U.N. relief agencies continue to help where they can. “We remain committed to helping the people of Yemen. We have reached nearly six million people with clean water, distributed 3.7 million liters of fuel to public hospitals [and] treated more than 167,000 children for severe acute malnutrition,” U.N. leaders conveyed.

– Camille Wilson

Photo: Flickr