KHARTOUM, Sudan — There is an undeniable correlation between a nation’s poverty and its subsequent stability. It is no coincidence that the poorest nations in the world are also the most unsafe.
Numerous aids organizations have realized this linkage with Bill Gates, head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, remarking “I believe that the world will be a safer place if there is enough food to go around – that it will be a more stable place if children grow up with opportunities instead of frustrations.” The U.S. government also echoes this view with President Barack Obama explaining, “It’s [foreign aid]a moral imperative, its an economic imperative, and it is a security imperative. For we’ve seen how spikes in food prices can plunge millions into poverty, which, in turn, can spark riots that cost lives, and this can lead to instability.”
Despite these remarks however, financial investment in the various high poverty nations worldwide is not yet large enough to meet their needs. And one result of this is an increase in insecurity and instability in these nations. One of the most tragic consequences of these conflicts are the prevalence of child soldiers.
A child solider is any person younger than 18 who has been recruited or used by an armed force in any capacity. This can lead to the presence of young boys and girls on the front lines of battlefields.
It is estimated that 300,000 child soldiers operate around the world. Many children join these armies due to various pressing economic or social concerns. They join in the hopes of receiving a stable income and food supply and for security. However, there are also cases of children being forced to join by various pressures exerted by the military groups themselves, either through kidnapping or differing forms of coercion.
Since 2012, child soldiers have been used by 20 different states either directly in government armed forces or indirectly in groups they support or are allied to. In addition to state or state-sponsored groups, there are a multitude of non-state sponsored militant groups employing children today with one of the most well-known being the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony.
One state that has come out in recent news for employing child soldiers is South Sudan. In 2012, the government of South Sudan signed an Action Plan with the U.N. to end its military’s use of child soldiers. This plan was supposed to ensure the cessation of all recruitment of individuals under 18 into the army, and demobilize all children already in the military. Tangible progress seemed to have occurred until the renewal of conflict in the country in December 2013. It now seems that the Action Plan is something that has become increasingly ignored by both the government and its opposing forces.
There have been multiple witness reports from South Sudan saying that children have been used in recent fighting that took place in Bentiu, the capital of the Unity State, in mid August 2014. There have also been reports of child soldiers in the neighboring town of Rubkona. The witnesses, who were fleeing the fighting in the areas mentioned, attest to having seen numerous children in military uniforms carrying assault rifles.
Human Rights Watch, an international non-partisan organization that works to advance and protect human rights, has reported widely of the resurgence of child soldiers in South Sudan. Daniel Bekele, the Africa director at Human Rights Watch, has vocally condemned this saying “South Sudan’s Army has returned to a terrible practice, once again throwing children into battlefields.”
South Sudan’s children have, in fact, confirmed the presence of children in their army’s ranks but declared that this fact is due not to the exploitation of children for additional manpower, but because these children came to the government forces on their own looking for employment and protections.
Opposition forces have also been using child soldiers and during the first few days of fighting in December 2013, forces forcibly recruited hundreds of school children.
In April, the U.N. Children’s Fund reported that more than 9,000 children were being used as child soldiers in South Sudan’s current conflict.
Thus, while currently both sides in this conflict have publicly condemned the use of child solders in their respective armies, on the battlefields these children remain, clutching at AK-47s, and garbed in military uniforms. Certainly there is an apparent gap in the words spoken by both sides and the armies’ recruitment polices.
In order for the practice of recruiting child soldiers to be stopped, the root issue must be addressed. By providing aid to areas with precarious economies, the United States and the international community can prevent eventual devastating intra-state conflicts from occurring, and thereby can help prevent the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers around the world.
– Albert Cavallaro