Casualties of War: Exposing the Plight of Child Soldiers

By Akwei, Adotei | The Crisis, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview
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Casualties of War: Exposing the Plight of Child Soldiers

Akwei, Adotei, The Crisis

Casualties of War: Exposing the Plight of Child Soldiers Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War By Jimmie Briggs (Basic Books, $24.95)

Freelance journalist Jimmie Briggs speni more than six years traveling to five war-torn countries on three continents. He has published his findings from the journey in a new book, and in just over 170 pages he manages to eliminate the distance and overcome the cultural and political barriers that contribute to one of our world's most shameful human rights abuses: the practice of making children soldiers.

Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War is a concise, powerful exposé of a problem the world can and must address more effectively. Briggs takes the readers along to hot spots where children, some so young the guns they tote exceed their height, are carrying out the deeds of men. We meet current and former child combatants, their victims and families, and those who work in hope of rehabilitating them. The reader also comes to know the author a bit as he struggles with his own safety, emotions and journalistic ethics in his pursuit of these stories.

Briggs reports from Rwanda, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Colombia, providing the historical and political context necessary for the reader to grasp the roots of the conflicts. The selection of countries underscores the fact that this is a global issue, not one limited to Africa as is often thought.

Briggs introduces the issue this way, "Children's participation in armed conflict around the world is a huge challenge for national governments, peacemaking and peacekeeping forces, and humanitarian organizations, yet a nearly j invisible one. Even in the most intense media coverage of a war, the children who are affected receive the least amount of attention. The tragedy of child soldiers is hidden in plain sight."

There are as many as 300,000 child soldiers fighting in wars today. Numerous human rights groups, including the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers have documented the abuses involved in forcing children to be soldiers. In addition to being violently kidnapped, child soldiers are usually drugged, assaulted and forced to go through brutal initiation rites meant to break their emotional ties to their families or communities and instill loyalty to their abductors.

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, children were reportedly forced to go back and kill people from their villages and in some cases even members of their family, thus ensuring that those communities would not want them to return.

The author highlights the failure of the international system to effectively address the issue of child soldiers by exposing either the lack of leadership or in some cases outright obstruction from the United States.

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