The disgrace of child soldiers


Universe Column for June 25th 2006

by David Alton

War Child has just launched a ground breaking report which throws the spotlight on the more than 100,000 children serving in armed groups worldwide: children who will not reintegrate with their families and communities. Living with social exclusion, extreme poverty, often falling into crime and vulnerable to re-mobilisation, these children are also a threat to the peace process in the countries where they live.

The report will be used to spear-head War Child’s lobbying and campaigning over the next 12 months.

The report will also be a catalyst for much needed international debate about this tragic situation.

Most of us are rightly actively concerned in the welfare of our own children. But most of us also want this care and concern to extend to children living with less fortunate circumstances elsewhere in the world. Our Government  reflects this concern as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention binds Britain to ensuring that children’s rights are upheld everywhere. Indeed, much is being done to help secure the rights of children world wide. But it is not enough. As a generous provider of financial and technical assistance, Britain can help lead the way in securing the rights of the most vulnerable children.

This is why I hope that War Child’s important report will be widely read.

War Child  works with the hard core – child soldiers, street children and children in conflict with the law – in hard core locations like Iraq , Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo . These are some of the most vulnerable children in the world. I was in Congo a few months ago and saw for myself the consequences of a war which has taken 4 million lives in little over a decade. Hundreds of thousands of children have been orphaned, many are under arms, and many end up as street children.

Their report is called “I am not trash, a call to action from child soldiers”. It shows that of the 300,000 child soldiers worldwide at least 100,000 will not reintegrate with their families and communities. These children will live on the margins of their communities, struggling with acute poverty, exclusion and lack of support. Many will turn to crime, some will re-mobilise. In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, War Child’s research shows that some 10,000 children will not reintegrate. But this is not just a child welfare issue. In a country that has seen four million dead because of war since 1998, the presence of 10,000 marginalised and often militant youngsters, vulnerable to re-mobilisation, is a direct threat to the delicate peace process.

As War Child so rightly points out, Britain is the fourth largest economy in the world and so is one of the most significant signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have a major responsibility, therefore, to lead the way in supporting the sustainable and meaningful reintegration of these children. War Child’s call to action maps out ways that we can all help to achieve this – politicians, governments, media and the public alike.

One of the most  powerful thing about this call to action is that War Child has worked with young people in Britain to develop it. Young people in Britain have, in their hundreds of thousands, shown concern for children elsewhere in the world through their interest in War Child’s work.  Children can learn about citizenship and leadership by championing the rights of other children and buy stimulating this important debate.

This is an initiative which deserves widespread support. Further details appear on War Child’s website (www.warchild.org.uk) where Universe readers can read the report. It wont take long and you may then want to take some of the actions they call for.