War is No Place for a Child
When most of us think about human trafficking, images of children in sweatshops and women in massage parlors spring to mind. These are the horrible cases of human trafficking that splash across our newspapers, fill up our news feeds, and scroll across our television screens for the five o’clock news. However, there is another form of trafficking that we seldom talk about, one that lurks in the shadows. It may sit in the back of our minds, but all too often we ignore it because it doesn’t happen near us. What I’m talking about is the heartbreaking reality of child soldiers.
The harsh reality of child soldiers is most prevalent on the continent of Africa. Many of the communities and villages in central Africa are cut off from each other, and without the ability to communicate with the outside world the younger generation can fall prey to rebel groups. It is these groups that threaten their safety, their families, and their lives. The isolation that results from not being able to warn the villages around them creates the perfect conditions for the crucible of injustice. One of the catalysts for “recruiting” these children to become child soldiers can be seen in the tactics of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which is currently a rebel group running out of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to Invisible Children, an organization that fights for the freedom of child soldiers, the LRA “has abducted and killed thousands of people in isolated areas of northeastern DRC, eastern Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan, exploiting local communities, wildlife, and natural resources alongside several other violent armed groups.” The leader of the LRA is Joseph Kony who commands the group with almost cult-like leadership.
Like many people, I was unaware that child soldiers were even in existence, until 2012 when the news that Joseph Kony was kidnapping children for his army sent a cry of outrage throughout the world. I was incensed to hear about this injustice and the people it affected. While public outcry did create valuable awareness surrounding the issue, Kony has continued to “recruit” and indoctrinate more children and adults into his army, he has been able to evade authorities by using the dense forest in East Africa as a hideout. The spiritual, mental, and physical tactics that Kony uses are meant to demoralize and break down the children that he abducts; taking away familial barriers that these children know so that all they have left with is Kony and the LRA.
Invisible Children and other NGOs in the area have learned more about these methods as they have continued to work with survivors. These reports show that these children are indoctrinated by dehumanizing methods such as “making them witness and perpetrate terrible acts, such as murdering family members.” After forcing children to kill their family, Kony is able to convince them they have no home to return to, and so they follow him. The Human Rights Watch affirms that there are thousands of children being forced to serve in armed conflicts all around the world. They state that, “These boys and girls, some as young as 8-years-old, serve in government forces and armed opposition groups. They fight on the front lines, participate in suicide missions, and act as spies, messengers, or lookouts. Girls may be forced into sexual slavery. Many are abducted or recruited by force, while others join out of desperation, believing that armed groups are their best chance for survival.”
While most child soldiers are abducted and forced to join armed groups, some choose to join voluntarily. This fact is a hard truth to swallow for some, but it is the reality of many child soldiers. The factors that can lead a child to choose to join an armed rebel group are numerous, however, the root of it is out of a need for survival. Many of the villages that these children grew up in had little to no police presence to protect them. They were living in poverty, always fearing an attack from a rebel group, so they decide that the only way to be safe from the rebels is to join them. Often they are promised riches and rewards, but most importantly they are offered a sense of identity (albeit a flawed one). These children are only trying to figure out a way out of their brokenness, and that is what rebel groups such as the LRA, and leaders such as Joseph Kony, prey on.
While this is a gut-wrenching reality, the truth is that it is not a hopeless situation. There are countless organizations, such as Invisible Children, and other NGOs that are dedicated to stopping the abduction and indoctrination of child soldiers once and for all. The Early Warning Radio Network is one program that is allowing isolated villages to communicate with each other. Another incredible example is the Come Home LRA Broadcasting which intercepts the radios that child soldiers are armed with and encourages them to come home and seek immunity. This hard work is to bring safety and peace of mind back to the homes and lives of those affected by this injustice and to create a brighter future for children everywhere.
About the Author
Katherina Toews sees the world mostly from between the ears of a horse, and wouldn’t want it any other way. She believes that there is nothing that can’t be fixed by sharing tea, chocolate chip cookies, and a good black and white movie with friends. Katherina is currently the Head Wrangler at a year-round camp and retreat centre, teaching people about horses and helping them to overcome their fears.