Saturday, March 24, 2012

Child soldiers: A worldwide scourge | Human Rights Watch

  Child soldiers: A worldwide scourge

Jo Becker
March 23, 2012
Joseph Kony, Thomas Lubanga and Charles Taylor are just the tip of the iceberg. The use of children as soldiers extends far beyond Africa. 

Last week in The Hague, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, found the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers in the armed conflict in that country, sealing his fate as the court's first convicted war criminal.

At the same time, the viral video "Kony 2012" has seemingly achieved its goal of making Joseph Kony, another rebel commander facing an ICC arrest warrant, notorious for his alleged crimes, including the abduction of an estimated 30,000 children for his Lord's Resistance Army. Millions of people have viewed the video, with millions more learning about Kony, who is still at large, through mainstream media coverage of the campaign.

Kony, Lubanga and Charles Taylor could be regarded as the three most infamous child soldier recruiters in the world today. Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is awaiting a verdict from the Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges of recruiting child soldiers and other crimes.

Together, the three may bear responsibility for forcing tens of thousands of children into brutal and deadly wars.

But the use of child soldiers extends far beyond Central and West Africa. Today, child soldiers are fighting in at least 14 countries, including Colombia, Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Afghanistan. In most of these cases, there have been no arrest warrants, no trials and no convictions for those responsible.

The United Nations has identified more than a dozen "persistent perpetrators," governments and armed groups that are known to have used child soldiers in active conflict for more than 10 years. 

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels in Colombia, for example, have recruited children as young as 7 and forced them into combat. They execute fighters who try to desert.

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