Child Soldiers in Africa

Child Soldiers in Africa

Child Soldiers in Africa

Child Soldiers in Africa

Synopsis

Young people have been at the forefront of political conflict in many parts of the world, even when it has turned violent. In some of those situations, for a variety of reasons, including coercion, poverty, or the seductive nature of violence, children become killers before they are able to grasp the fundamentals of morality. It has been only in the past ten years that this component of warfare has captured the attention of the world. Images of boys carrying guns and ammunition are now commonplace as they flash across television screens and appear on the front pages of newspapers. Less often, but equally disturbingly, stories of girls pressed into the service of militias surface in the media.

A major concern today is how to reverse the damage done to the thousands of children who have become not only victims but also agents of wartime atrocities. In Child Soldiers in Africa, Alcinda Honwana draws on her firsthand experience with children of Angola and Mozambique, as well as her study of the phenomenon for the United Nations and the Social Science Research Council, to shed light on how children are recruited, what they encounter, and how they come to terms with what they have done. Honwana looks at the role of local communities in healing and rebuilding the lives of these children. She also examines the efforts undertaken by international organizations to support these wartime casualties and enlightens the reader on the obstacles faced by such organizations.

Excerpt

The issue of children’s participation in armed political conflict has captured the attention of the world during the past ten or fifteen years. Images of boys carrying guns and ammunition flash across television screens and appear on the front pages of newspapers. Less often but equally disturbingly, stories of girls pressed into the service of militias surface in the media. An unprecedented number of children have been drawn into active participation in warfare. Many children are coerced into fighting; others are pushed into it by poverty and crises in their communities; some may be seduced by promises of glory or excitement. Children as young as eight or ten are transformed into merciless killers, committing the most horrendous atrocities with apparent indifference or even pride.

Children’s involvement in armed conflict is not a recent phenomenon. In the past, young people have been at the forefront of political conflict in many parts of the world, even when it has turned violent. Today, however, the problem has grown to such magnitude that it has attracted public notice. What is new is not just the visibility of civil wars but also that children are more deeply involved; in some places, they form a substantial proportion of combatants. Analysts of war have pointed out that most contemporary civil wars represent a “total societal crisis.” Social order is almost entirely disrupted, and defenseless civilians, especially women, children, and the elderly, are particularly vulnerable.

Reports of children taking human lives are increasingly infiltrating public awareness, not only from conflict zones but also from societies in peacetime. Almost any newspaper or nightly news show in the United States includes a litany of youthful victims and perpetrators of inner-city violence; some cities keep a running tally of the death toll. Isolated cases that occur in white, middle-class settings seem more shocking, such as the Columbine school shootings or the murder of a Dartmouth college . . .

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