Can you imagine being as young as seven years old, taken from your family, having a gun shoved into your small arms, and being told to fight? I know I can’t. That’s the reality of about 350,000 child soldiers worldwide.
Every day in Sudan more than 100 school boys are kidnapped from their classrooms and are trafficked around the country, forced to participate as soldiers in the civil war. It has become such a regularity in Sudan that now schools are simply closing; they are left deserted so that the children won’t become victims to trafficking. Half of the population in Sudan is under 15 which is why children are being targeted as soldiers. There are not enough adults to do the fighting. According to Unicef, 70% of the child soldiers are forced to fight in rebel groups. The White Army is one of these groups that often send children into battle. Children are easier to manipulate than adults and will follow gruesome orders without questioning them. They are forced into dehumanizing experiences through these illegal militias.
Child soldiering and human trafficking are often seen as separate issues but in reality they are not. According to the United Nations, human trafficking is defined as:
…the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
This means that forcing children to be soldiers is a form of human trafficking, and a very horrible one at that. It takes away a child’s innocence and youth and they are forced to experience extreme trauma at such a young age when they can barely understand what is happening. The children are exposed to high levels of violence which is toxic to their psychological and social development. Many of them report symptoms of depression and post traumatic stress disorder. According to a study done on the child soldiers of Uganda, almost 90% continued to be exposed to violence once they returned home. More than half of them had killed someone and over a quarter of them had been raped as well. Unsurprisingly, two thirds of these children suffered from severe mental health issues. 2 million children have died as a result of being a child soldier in the past decade; more than three times that number have been seriously injured. Being a child soldier has incredibly disastrous effects.
In 1990, as an effort to combat the use of child soldiers, the United Nations held the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The treaty proposed here soon became law and was ratified by 192 countries. The only two countries not to ratify it were Somalia and the United States. It is the most universally ratified human rights document so it is outrageous that our own country has not. However the United States did ratify a later agreement called the optional protocol. In 2008 the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) was implemented under Title IX. In 2017, the CSPA includes governments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Last year, the State Department was able to identify 10 countries that still used child soldiers in their militias. In response they put a prohibition on military aid to three of these countries -Sudan, Syria, and Yemen- but since the United States was not going to be giving these countries aid in the first place this ‘punishment’ was practically meaningless. This law is the only one we have that makes an effort to combat the use of child soldiers and it is weak and ineffective. The United States needs to be doing more to stop the use of child soldiers in the world. These children need help and their own country clearly will not save them; we need to stop being so complicit and take action.