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No Childhood for Child Soldiers

No Childhood for Child Soldiers

Grace Akallo was 15 years old when Uganda’s rebel soldiers burst into her high school classroom and kidnapped her, along with 138 other young girls, to serve in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). 

The rebel commanders raped her, and forced her to kill girls her own age who tried to flee. In the seven months before she escaped, Akallo suffered from extreme thirst and starvation, and was sent into dangerous battles with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The moment she was kidnapped, Akallo says her “spirit died.” So did her childhood.

UNICEF estimates that there are some 300,000 child soldiers fighting in 21 ongoing conflicts around the world. Rebel groups often abduct children from the streets, orphanages or schools, as they did with Akallo. Children living in extreme poverty may volunteer in their countries’ armies for shelter, meals, clothing, and medical attention. No matter how they end up in fatigues, these premature soldiers can suffer from serious physical and psychological damage

Some children as young as 8 years old lay mines and explosives, fight on the front lines in battles and are equipped with deadly machine guns. Many are invisible, working behind the scenes as porters, cooks, scouts or spies. They are used for suicide missions, and subjected to sexual exploitation, which places girls at high risk for HIV/AIDS. Not exactly your average childhood nightmares—the terrors of war can haunt these kids for a lifetime.    

To discourage governments from relying on young soldiers, Congress passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act in 2008, designed to help disarm the children in such countries as Afghanistan, Sudan and Uganda and help rehabilitate those led into danger. 

But last October, many human rights activists were discouraged when President Obama announced that he would waive the sanctions on US military aid to certain countries of key national security interest, even those routinely using child soldiers.  

Still, this issue has a human side that persists in girls like Grace Akallo. Now a graduate student at Clark University, she has begun to piece her life back together. She co-founded the Network of Young People Affected by War and is working to become a lawyer so she can “advocate for justice.”  

But not all former child soldiers have the opportunity to take their lives back. According to Akallo, “Many of the girls who managed to escape are not able to return to school or have dreams for their future because they were not helped to deal with their horrible experiences, or because they now have babies born of their abuse.” And although the nightmares may come less frequently, her life and the lives of at least 300,000 other children will be forever impacted by their time in war.

—————

Isabel DeBre is a high school freshman. She loves learning about global and humanitarian causes and is so excited to be a young voice in Care2′s public conversation on the issues that will affect her generation for years to come. 

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Photo credit: Pierre Holtz

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110 comments

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10:05PM PST on Mar 11, 2011

What's going on in real time is actually worse than what we're seeing in the movies! I can't imagine what motivates human beings to be so cruel and self-serving! I hope President Obama will reverse his decision to waive the sanctions on US military aid to countries of key national security IF they use child soldiers.

12:13PM PST on Mar 9, 2011

such a cruel world

3:59PM PST on Feb 24, 2011

This is one of the saddest things in this world: child soldiers. And the exploitation of them in so many ways. No childhood. Mothers, too young. I've read of some of these boys (a movie was made of their stories) being brought to the U.S., to be rehabilitated, in essence, being shown a different and better life. But the nightmares of what they were forced to do, is a thing, always in their minds. This is a cruel world.

11:42AM PST on Jan 28, 2011

I am afraid these are times of great hypocrisy. Western countries that "advocate human rights" close the eyes to such incidents. I am tired of meaningless words. I want action taken against children abusers worldwide.

4:53PM PST on Jan 27, 2011

The US is supplying weaponry to Somalia, where many child soldiers participate in armed combat. They don't even try to deny such facts. I'm not surprised that the small effort they made was gotten rid of.

10:00AM PST on Jan 27, 2011

So we as a country from Washington just wipe our hands off and go on with business as usual and look the other way about these horrific atrocities.

4:05PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

It is really sad to see little kids as soldeirs!

1:17PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

So sad these children do not even have a chance at any normal life. I think there is a lesson here to teach or own children. When they go off to school in the morning just try and picture these children with riffles in their hands. So sad...

10:14AM PST on Jan 26, 2011

So sad.

7:48AM PST on Jan 26, 2011

Poverty and war lead to such tragic practices.

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