Among the terrorists, a group of children brandish weapons while they witness the killing just feet away.
Worldwide, over 250,000 children under 18 are fighting in both government armies and armed opposition groups. Some children are kidnapped or forced to serve; others join in the hope of finding food and shelter, help their families, or to improve their lives.
Because of their emotional and physical immaturity, children are easy to manipulate and can be drawn into violence. They are too young to resist or understand. Both boys and girls arrive at the front line of combat or minefields before older troops. Some are used for suicide missions or forced to commit atrocities against their own families and neighbors. They can serve as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies.
No single country or continent is free from using children to fight adults' wars. The worldwide problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, though children are also used as soldiers in many countries in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. However, the problem is not limited to developing countries. Industrialized countries facing personnel shortfalls increase their efforts to attract young recruits.
Link to the following article on child soldiers here.
• There is a simple reason armed groups use child soldiers: children are easier to manipulate. They don’t each as much food, don’t get paid and don’t have a highly developed sense of danger, making it all too easy to send them into the line of fire.
• There are also plenty of new recruits. In many conflict-affected areas, children make up the majority of the population. There is a constant supply for armed groups, who often send children in the first wave of an attack so as to draw the enemy’s fire.
• Tackling the problem is hard: most of the groups who use child soldiers are so called ‘non-state actors’, anti government rebels and militias who are difficult to negotiate with. Many areas affected by conflict have no functioning government, adding to the challenges of reintegration.
After the murk lifts, my telescope vision focuses on a boy hiding in the bushes with another fuzzy image beside him. I don't force anything. After a moment, I drift down to merge with him, and then examine the mind of a young soldier in Rwanda.
Uri and his comrade, another fifteen year-old boy, have been soldiers of the Royal Military for months. They are puffed up with pride at their important mission—kidnap another boy of similar or younger age to join the army. A soldier had used this method to capture Uri. He and his friend hide behind spindly bushes to wait for a victim among the foraging villagers in the clearing ahead.
I hold myself ready to assist. Can I change Uri's mind?
Uri shakes with anticipation. Although he hasn't been allowed to visit his family in months, he eats at least once a day, wears new shoes and best of all, owns a gun. He hasn't killed anybody yet, but looks forward to the event with youthful enthusiasm. Ahead, the group of about fifteen people searches the soil for roots. Uri scrutinizes a boy ofabout twelve years, belly swollen, arms and legs thin. He looks the right type. He'll make a good soldier after they fatten him up.
I understand what I need to do. But I have to work out how to stop them. I whisper, 'It is better to starve, than to kill in a senseless feud'. Does he understand the concept? 'What are you fighting for?’ No reaction. I try to reach his emotion. 'Do you miss your home?’
A woman, probably the boy's mother, ambles away toward rough dwellings. She swivels to call her son, and then follows her companions, all searching the ground for food. Separated from the others by ten strides, he bends close to Uri's shelter to dig the earth with his hands.
Uri gathers himself, ready to pounce. His chest rises with expectancy. “You take his feet,” he says to his partner. “I'll grab him around the neck. Be quick.” The soil flashes by underneath his legs. Uri will reach him long before the villagers can help.
No. Let the boy alone. Rather than reason, I've got to do something drastic. I leave Uri and become one with the dry earth. I swirl my psyche and raise a cloud of dust.
Blinded for the moment, they stumble and fall to the ground, cursing in shrill voices.
I'm glad I've left the choking Uri.
The young boy spots the soldiers and dashes after his mother with a call. When he reaches her, they sprint to the safety of their village together.
Job done, I lift away.