While newspapers in the UK have recently reported on the sexualisation of media and culture as a threat to the innocence of our children those as young as 12 were being recruited in Mali as child soldier’ according to news reports. As a consequence they are placed in imminent danger against the superior firepower and professionalism of the French armed forces. One such child is Adama Drabo, aged 16. Though he only became a cook other children have been seen manning checkpoints and riding in patrol cars. Adama explains how he and his friends took a taxi to a town where they heard there was work and became a cook for the rebels. He claims he only knew they were terrorists when he was captured by the Malian Army. Considering that the Malian human rights watch claims that there has been up to a further 1000 children recruited Adama can be considered lucky to have not been placed in more extreme danger that the modern arsenal of the French Armed Forces poses. There have also been reports of Malian rebels paying desperate parents from between £1000 and £2000 for one child. This is however is just one recent example of an issue that has surfaced across several countries in the past.
Perhaps the most infamous is the use of child soldiers in Liberia by Charles Taylor. His rebel units routinely abducted children, marched them to Sudan to be trained and returned to fight Samuel Doe’s Liberian government forces. He was also actively involved in the deployment of child soldiers in Sierra Leone and conflicts across West Africa. More recent example include FARC in Columbia. There are many reasons why children become soldiers but one of the main reasons is the condition in which many of these children live do due to poverty. They view it as a opportunity to gain food and a degree of perceived security. They are also commonly forced out of fear of their own lives but can also see it as a chance to gain revenge in the context of a continuing conflict, such is the corrupting nature of war. Once on the front-lines due to their nature they are often seen as less valuable than adult soldiers and more easy to manipulate. In the eyes of their captors this makes them perfect as spies, messengers or more distressingly for entering minefields ahead of adult troops. In Liberia many children were even given drugs including liquor, marijuana and narcotics that were often rubbed into cuts on their faces.
I am not proposing that issues regarding the impact of sexualised media on young people is a less critical issue. It is however one that can perhaps be far more easily confronted. Where most of these conflicts, as the majority of all conflicts occur, is in the third world. Because many of the affected countries do not have the infrastructure to deal with the social consequences of the use of child soldiers this can have severe long-term effects. Even once the war’s have ended children find themselves ostracised from society due to the deep grievance that their previous actions and associations have created. When they are recruited for conflict they are often forced to kill their parent’s and neighbours and therefore stigmatised. They have no home to return to and vulnerable once more, not to the weapon’s of war but extreme poverty. Interviewed by The Guardian in 2009 Joseph Henah, a counsellor at one of Plan’s child soldier support programmes in Lofa, Liberia, said “The war broke the bonds between children and their parents and extended families. Those who fought as soldiers are now treated as pariahs and this stigma goes all the way up the chain from village level up to local and central government,”. In Liberia the girls who became the ‘wives’ of generals and warlords and suffered severe sexual abuse in war are now forced into prostitution to survive. Other former child soldiers revert to becoming drug dealer’s. In addition the psychological effects that these wars leave behind are widespread and devastating . In Sierra Leone, Plan researchers deemed that 70% of girls and 80% of boys interviewed for a Plan report were at serious risk of suicide, with 30% of children interviewed having already attempted suicide on at least one occasion.
In conclusion though it is clear we must recognize the problem of the sexualisation of young people in this country such stark statistics show us that the issue of child soldiers must also be known and confronted equally strongly by the international community.