Mera Okello is originally from Uganda, but she has spent time living in places around the world. Currently, she is based in Geneva, Switzerland, working in youth ministry.
Modern Day Slavery: Child Soldiers
Back in 2003, the makers of Invisible Children, a documentary that focuses on the abduction of children in northern Uganda for the LRA, opened the developed world’s eyes to another avenue of modern day slavery: using children as soldiers. As a result, most people, upon hearing the term “child soldiers”, automatically think of that conflict and that area of the world. However, the reality is that the use of children as soldiers is happening in places all over the world.
It is impossible to know the exact number of child soldiers in the world; however, it is estimated that there are about 300, 000 children under the age of 18 involved in over 30 conflicts around the world.1 Some are recruited through abduction or force; others join as a result of poverty, abuse or discrimination, or to seek revenge for violence against themselves or their families. The likelihood of children choosing to become soldiers is increased if they are separated from their families, displaced from their homes, are living in the conflict and/or have limited access to education.2 Unfortunately, in these cases the children do not know exactly what it is they are signing up for and end up going through many forms of abuse and in some cases are forced to kill others almost immediately.
The definition of a child soldier actually extends further than what initially comes to mind (which is being armed and directly taking part in conflict):
“ A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking, or has taken, a direct part in hostilities.”3
There are several organizations or branches of organizations whose mission it is to end slavery in this form. While the most popular is Invisible Children, which operates mainly in Uganda, there are other organizations such as United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (the Coalition) that also take part in this fight, dealing with situations worldwide. These organizations work to end the recruitment of child soldiers and strive for their demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) through different mediums. Invisible Children raise awareness through media and use the money raised for development programs in the affected areas of Uganda. The Coalition monitor the child soldier situation around the world and provide extensive and detailed reports about it as well as campaign for the demobilization and reintegration of children involved in conflicts. UNICEF is also involved in advocating for child soldiers as well as coming up with strategies for their social reintegration and implementing them.
As always, your help in these efforts would be greatly appreciated. The easiest way to help is to donate to an organization of your choice. Below are links for the organizations mentioned in this post.
To give to Invisible Children: http://nightof.therescue.invisiblechildren.com/donate
To give to The Coalition: http://www.child-soldiers.org/get_involved/donate
To give to UNICEF: http://www.supportunicef.org/site/pp.asp?c=9fLEJSOALpE&b=1023561
Also, donations can extend further than just giving money. For example, Invisible Children also takes donations of textbooks. http://nightof.therescue.invisiblechildren.com/bookdrive
Lastly, search for these organizations on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and help them raise awareness by presenting this issue to your own friends.
“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” – Ryunosuke Satoro
Let’s make a difference together.
1,2: UNICEF, ‘Factsheet: Child Soldiers’, http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/childsoldiers.pdf
3: UNICEF, ‘Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups’, 2007 (quoted from http://www.child-soldiers.org/childsoldiers/questions-and-answers)