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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Monday, February 23, 2009

THE PHENOMENON OF CHILD SOLDIERS

According to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, any person who has not yet reached the age of 15 years and partakes in an armed conflict is defined as a “child soldier”. Sadly, this criterion is simply ignored by many. In 2002, an optional UN protocol came into effect; it declared that State Parties should take all “feasible measures to ensure that persons below the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities and that they are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces".

When Executive Outcomes (EO) was operating in Sierra Leone in 1996, we tried very hard to get members of the media to give coverage to the child-soldiers fighting in that conflict. Sadly, this did not interest them as they were apparently more concerned at finding reasons to get EO out of that country so that the rebels could continue with their orgy of violence. We also appealed to the UN on this issue but they seemingly did not understand their own conventions and protocols on children. The men, however, continued to do what they could to get the children out of the firing-line and help the process of rehabilitating them. These efforts applied to both government and rebel forces. For this, EO was given a certificate of appreciation by the Sierra Leone organisation “Children Associated with the War”.

But, the use of children in war is nothing new. Indeed, children have been soldiers and casualties in most, if not all wars. Modern media reporting, however, makes it easier to highlight their plight on television and in the printed media. But, these children that have been robbed of their innocence are not a phenomenon unique to Africa.

The vast majority of these children are forcibly acting as “trigger-men” and “cannon-fodder” after being brutally inducted into war by torture, rape, threats, murder, and so forth. They are given real guns and told to kill whoever stands in their paths. As an example, in Sierra Leone, boys were forced to rape their mothers or sisters before killing their parents. There is no clear chance to escape and any attempt at escaping is met with extreme violence, torture and even death.

Once inducted into their life of murder and mayhem, they are easily influenced by their “leaders” and peers. Killing becomes a way of life. However, when they are in the opposite trenches trying to kill those who wish to stop them, they become valid battlefield targets – and often lose life and limb without understanding the reason for their being there. Those that survive, suffer enormous emotional trauma.

Estimates are that approximately between 250 000 and 300 000 children are currently serving as soldiers, actively engaged in conflict, across the world. They act not only as soldiers but also as spies, porters, sexual distractions, messengers and so forth. Some of these children are used to lead the assaults against government forces and even to act as suicide bombers. And it is not only boys who are forced into the world of warcraft.

But rebel forces are, however, not the only ones to use children to bolster their forces. Several governments are equally guilty of recruiting children – or coercing them – into their forces. This desire to swell the number of men under arms points directly to a flawed strategy of winning any conflict.

Actively participating in armed conflict as soldiers not only traumatises the children, it also violates their very rights as children. Robbed of their youth and forced to kill, main or torture, they are devoid of any moral compass. Their education is killing - or to be killed. They have no schools, homes, medical facilities and so on. In fact, all they have is a gun and ammunition. In using these weapons of war, many of these child soldiers commit horrific atrocities, effectively making them war criminals. But, international law restricts their punishment as they remain children.

This problem can manifest itself in a serious manner at the end of hostilities as these child-soldiers have the ability and the means to enter into a life of serious organised crime. With their only real education being that power comes through the gun, where will it end?

Added on 24 February 2009: David Isenberg sent me this interesting copy of a thesis document submitted to the University of Victoria. Thank you, David.
http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/MQ62035.pdf

23 comments:

matt said...

Heart breaking. What's worse is when a government uses a twisted interpretation of religion as justification for using children in warfare. Iran comes to mind, with their use of the Basiji during the Iran-Iraq war.-Matt
------------------

July, 30, 2006
Ahmadinejad's World

The deployment of the Basiji in the mine fields shows what one can expect from the Mullah-Regime · By Matthias K√ľntzel

In pondering the behavior of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I cannot help but think of the 500,000 plastic keys that Iran imported from Taiwan during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. At the time, an Iranian law laid down that children as young as 12 could be used to clear mine fields, even against the objections of their parents. Before every mission, a small plastic key would be hung around each of the children’s necks. It was supposed to open for them the gates to paradise.

http://www.matthiaskuentzel.de/contents/ahmadinejads-world

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for that, Matt. Indeed it is a shame when kids are used to meet the goals of others. In some instances, it may be argued that the nation is under such a threat that using children as soldiers is part of the final stand. In others, kids are easier to influence and manipulate to do things normal soldiers won’t do. Regardless of the arguments, it is still shameful.

Rgds,

Eeben

John said...

A colleague and I used to work out of a Police Commando base in Iraq in 2005. One morning early upon entering the base we saw a child, probably 8 years old, cable tied and blind folded. We asked our soldiers why this child was “in custody”. They informed us that he attempted to detonate a suicide vest (and of course himself) at the entrance to the base. Luckily for him, and everyone around him, the vest malfunctioned. He was 10 years old, we found out later.

Robby Noel said...

Matt
With all due respect you cannot compare the Basiji to African child soldiers two completely different things ....

Misguided as they maybe youths in Iran joined of their own free will or religious conviction

Basiji Origins

Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a decree founding the Basij as "a large people's militia", in November 1979. He is reported to have stated that "a country with 20 million youths must have 20 million riflemen or a military with 20 million soldiers; such a country will never be destroyed." [1] At least originally the Basij was open to those below the age of 18 and above the age of 45, and all women. The militia were an important factor during the Iran–Iraq War (1980-1988). In that war, huge numbers of teen-age Basijis were sacrificed on the minefields, believing that they were holy martyrs and chanting songs about the Battle of Karbala, in which the Imam Hussein, the greatest Shi'ite martyr, was tortured and killed. By the spring of 1983 the Basij had trained 2.4 million Iranians in the use of arms and sent 450,000 to the front.After the war, the Basij was reorganized and gradually developed into one of the Islamic regime's "primary guarantors of domestic security."

African child soldiers on the other hand are recruited through force, fraud, or coercion to be exploited for their labor or to be abused as sex slaves in conflict areas.

Many children are abducted to be used as combatants. Others are made to serve as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Many young girls are forced to marry or perform sexual services for male combatants. Male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused, and are at high risk of unwanted pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Some children have been forced to commit atrocities against their families and communities. Child soldiers are often killed or wounded, with survivors often suffering multiple traumas and psychological scarring. Their personal development is often irreparably damaged. Returning child soldiers are often rejected by their home communities.

The next question one needs to ask is what becomes of the child soldiers when they becomes a adults?...

Just my take they move to South Africa.. it would not surprise me to find out that the majority of violent crime committed in SA today is caused by former child soldiers

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A sad situation indeed, John. But, as you know, these types of actions are on-going and have no end in sight. The bottom line is that such children rely on adults to view them as non-threatening – and that is when they are at their most dangerous.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Point taken, Robby. The sharp rise in violent crime could be exactly such an indication.

Rgds,

Eeben

matt said...

Robby,

I beg to differ. It takes an adult to convince a child that clearing a minefield with their body is a good thing. In Iran, I classify the Basiji as institutionalized child abuse.
So what adult is worse, the one that physically and violently makes a child fight in a war in Africa, or an adult that mentally convinces that child through religious influence and nationalism to fight in a war? I say both are egregious forms of child abuse, and African warlords and Iranian religious leaders are both at fault. Cheers. -Matt

Robby Noel said...

Hi Eeben ....Not sure if you are aware of how the UN is unloved by many in the US... many would be happy to see it dumped in the East River....

Heres a story about a US grunt who refused to wear the UN Blue and the price he paid

Michael New - Mercenary... or American Soldier

Meet Michael New. In Febuary of 1993, 20 year old Michael New enlisted in the United States Army and took an oath to defend the constitution of the United States. His Army Recruiter, in Conroe, Texas, never mentioned UN command, foreign officers, or wearing the UN uniform; instead he was told he was signing up for the US military.

Michael was and is just like every other young man with hopes and dreams of the future. He never dreamed at the young age of 23 his name would be mentioned in the halls of congress and all the way to the White House and Office of the President of the United States himself.

The rest of the story.....

http://www.mikenew.com/meet.html

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I think Matt and Robby both have valid points to make. Despite the differing opinions, this remains a large problem that is not restricted to Africa and the Middle East.

Rgds

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A fascinating story, Robby. Thanks for the link. I can see the quandary the US must be in. But Mike made a decision based on his beliefs and stuck to it. That is a lesson many can learn but few will have the courage to follow.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Matt...Although I agree with you on the child abuse I see a big difference between the two about a third of the world's child soldiers are in Africa granted I have no idea what happens to a child of Basiji when he becomes a adult,but I do know what happens when a African child soldier becomes one.

Robby Noel said...

Eeben...When joining the US Military a soldier swears a oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the US sounds cut and dried however truth be known the constitution is a dead letter in the military free speech is fine so long as you don't question orders given for a grunt to do this does require a great deal of moral courage....

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Soldiers are supposed to uphold the Constitution of the government they serve, Robby. To me, that means deploying at home or abroad to defend the Constitution and to carry out the foreign policy of the government with force if need be. Furthermore, this requires an apolitical stance in a political world.

However, refusing to uphold the (lack of) values of the UN is something I too would refuse to carry out. It is an organisation that knows no shame or honour – a difficult place for a soldier to serve with honour.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Eeben....this requires an apolitical stance in a political world.

Is that really possible in today's world?.....would like to think so but facts say otherwise...sad but true the power and influence of the UN got a major boost with the election of Obama.

Being a student of history the current financial problems facing the US are not so much like that of the Great Depression of 1929 rather the crash of 1873

In the end, the Panic of 1873 demonstrated that the center of gravity for the world's credit had shifted west — from Central Europe toward the United States. The current panic suggests a further shift — from the United States to China and India and without doubt would be fully supported by the UN

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Perhaps I expressed myself poorly, Robby. I don’t believe that soldiers should openly advocate any political party. But, I recall some senior officers in the SADF openly proclaiming the glory of the National Party. Today, many in the SANDF openly proclaim the virtues of the ANC. When this is evident, those soldiers are serving a political party and not defending a Constitution.

I am no financial specialist but I believe a large factor in the current crash was the rampant fraud and corruption schemes that were running, thus undermining all trust in fiscal policies and the banks. If one looks at those schemes that were exposed, they make the fraud and corruption in Africa look like nursery school efforts.

However, there does in general seem to be a definite shift towards the East. China, India and Russia are positioning themselves for the next century – and the UN will no doubt be happy to support such a shift.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

America caused this world wide melt down because of political correctness or as I prefer to say "cultural marxism"

For many years there have been minority politicians on the left who have waged a war with banks and insurance companies for what it calls "discriminatory" lending practices...during the last few years of the Clinton admin the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Dept started to go after them....ergo the banks and insurance companies were forced to stop using a persons credit info or verified income to buy a house.

These loans were given a PC name "Sub Prime" but everyone knew them as.. NINJA loans....no income no job no problem

This is when Wall Street turned lemons into lemonade they took these bad loans and mixed them in with good ones got their buddies at the ratings agency to give them a AAA credit rating and then sold these so called super safe investments world wide it worked while the price of real estate went higher everyone was happy...America sold the world a scam and they bought it big time

In this environment greed and fraud always runs rampant when everyone wants to buy things they don't need with money they don't have ....in America a mans image/worth is measured by the "stuff" he has not by the content of his character.....financially speaking "we are so screwed"

PS: From today's UK Mail
Police investigate after British medical student dies in Africa while taking gap year to help child victims of war

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1155979/Police-probe-British-medical-student-dies-Uganda-taking-gap-year-help-child-victims-war.html

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

That sort of answers many questions I had but suspected all along, Robby. Being PC is the “in thing” nowadays and good folk of all colours ultimately suffer under the burden for the benefit of the few – relatively speaking.

Thanks for the UK Mail article.

Rgds,

Eeben

simon said...

I met the woman who wrote legislation in the US immigration law barring anyone who had a hand in this. Its called the child soldiers act, section 212 (g) of the INA.

We had some discussion about this as I am familiar with some of africa's wars, etc. I told her this was a great thing but I pointed out how hard it would be for anyone to immediately uncover such information and that it sounds good on the books but rooting it out would be a hard task.

Im pleased that the issue is being recognized by our goverment. All too often, the usa will go to countries and interview refugees who have come from war zones and I suspect that way too many have passed themselves off as victims rather than persecutors. In fact I know of a case from Zimbabwe, er Rhodesia that was interesting.

A man sought asylum in the us and made a claim of 'credible fear' that he could not return to zimbabwe because he would be killed. His arrogance and information didnt quite make for the picture of a persecuted person.Little by litte some sharp prosecuting attorneys lured him in to his ego and just like jack nicholson in A few Good Men, had a break down in court and admitted that he was a 'captain' for mugabe and was responsible for targeting dissenters daily during the late 80's and 90's. He has been deported and yes, he probably would be killed after leaving his beloved Mugabe and I hope he is.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Rooting it out will be difficult, Simon. The world is full of thugs seeking asylum to run away from their deeds – and many do slip through the net to escape justice. But usually men who abuse children in this manner are cowards and eventually crack when under pressure. I am pleased that the US is doing something to curb it.

Rgds,

Eeben

David Taransaud said...

I recently traveled to Northern Uganda and set up an art therapy service in an orphanage for former child soldiers and young people affected by conflict and trauma.I came back a week ago and I am hoping to return in a few months to carry on with the work. Below is the short movie I made while I was there;
http://youtu.be/_AmdJNE2XLA

I would appreciate if you watch the clip and forward the link to friends and colleagues. I’m hoping it’ll help to promote the awareness and the sponsorship of war orphans at the orphanage and with a bit of luck, raise financial funds for further resources.

I please do not hesitate to contact me directly if you’d like more info about this project or how you can support the orphanage.

davidtaransaud@yahoo.com

Thank you very much.
David

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you for the link David. You are doing amazing work out there and I hope someone will come forward to support your endeavours.

As you are no doubt aware, there are a lot of folks using similar projects to collect funding and this has attracted a lot of adverse publicity as some of them are apparently pocketing the money for themselves. This may cause folks to think twice before parting with money or other support.

Nevertheless, I commend you and wish you luck and success.

Rgds,

Eeben

David Taransaud said...

Thanks for your support and encouragement.
I completely agree with you. I’m also very suspicious of so called charities and always wonder how they use the money they received. That’s part of the reason why I decided to go to Uganda myself and get my hands dirty! Hopefully the video I made will convince people that I am a genuine character. But again, it might not!
Since ‘Kitgum’s Orphans, Invisible Wounds’ has been on youtube, just over a week, the orphanage has received enough money to buy 50 bunk beds, mattresses, bed sheets, etc.
For the past 6 years the children have been sleeping on a dirty floor with no mosquito nets. Two days ago the director of the orphanage, has placed an order for 50 bunk beds… it won’t be long before the kids know what a real bed feels like!

Isn't that amazing!

Once they have been delivered I will post the photos on my gmail+

Warm wishes,

David

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

That is a great beginning to your endeavours, David. Well done.

I am not unfamiliar with Uganda and realise that you have an uphill battle on your hands – a battle that will find itself being attacked by jealous parties. But, keep up the good work for the sake of the children.

I look forward to seeing those photos.

Rgds,

Eeben