The Child Soldiers of the LRA

Child Soldiers - more than Tin Soldiers - Victims & Perpetrators

Child Soldiers have been a reality throughout history

Since Ancient Times Children have volunteered or been recruited as Child Soldiers


Today in Africa Children are abducted and turned into Killers,

Are Child Soldiers only found in places such as Uganda in Africa?

Can Child Soldiers be reintegrated into Society?


Child Soldiers  have been there throughout history and are there in many parts of the world today

In 2009, when one things of child soldier, Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army come up, people often think of Africa and images of young boys with AK 47's and a machete in their hands, grenades on their sides.  Children and yet deadly soldiers.


Are Child Soldiers a new phenomenon? 

Child soldiers have existed throughout history, from the beginning of time. Here are just a few examples. Spartans used boy soldiers as young as seven to bolster their small army for combat. The Ottoman Turks kidnapped Christian boys and turned them into warriors. The English Navy recruited boys as young as seven who were used to prepare gunpowder of cannons and other tasks in combat at sea.  George Washington's Army had child soldiers during the revolutionary war.  The Civil War in the USA had many child soldiers on both sides as combatants.

In World War II the polish resistance used child soldiers and there is today a monument child soldiers in Poland depicting a young boy with helmet, and weapon.  At the end of the World War II the Germans in a last ditch effort to stop the Allied invastion used children from the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) movement. 

Since the days of World War II Child Soldiers both boys and girls have been active in Chechnya, Bosnia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Uganda. 

Child soldiers are nothing new, throughout history they have been used in various ways in times of war, conflict and rebellions, even as they are today in various parts of the world.


How many Child Soldiers are there?

The figure of 300,000 child soldiers is often used. This figures comes from 1990's when there were many conflicts involving child solider such as Angola, Nepal, Liberia, Sierra Leone.  Conflicts that thankfully have come to an end.  Rebel armies, groups using child soldiers do not publish lists that allow you tor readily see how many children are presently involved as child soldiers.

In the case of the Lord's Resistance Army, you read 30,000 children abducted, what is harder to find that in Uganda alone 24,000 ex -LRA members have been granted amnesty and we do not know what has happened to abductees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The guestimates of LRA members with Kony, both combatants and non-combatants is around 1000 to 1200 today based on the reports given by escaped LRA members. You have to dig in present news sources to find these figures, what you usually find is anywhere from 25,000 to 45,000 abducted children, one report states 66,000 abducted children.

The reality is that there are still quite a few child soldiers around the world and every effort should be me made and continued to be made to see them released from the twisted bondage of mind and heart that they find themselves in.


Why use Child Soldiers?

They are easy to recruit or as we have seen in Uganda, relatively easy to abduct.  They do not cost much to maintain, a lot less than adult soldiers.  Most rebel armies live off of the land or have some sponsor that gives them weapons and supplies.  In Northern Uganda the LRA simply took what it wanted from villages and settlements.

They are easily persuaded, brainwashed and turned from innocent children into cold blooded murderers.  The Taliban leaders in many instances were child soldiers and one can see how their attitudes shaped as children on the battlefield were taken into adulthood.  Brutality becomes the norm and it is not just left behind.  Many of the LRA leader with Joseph Kony were child soldiers abducted from their homes and schools and turned into men and women without feelings, without a conscience, just a heart of stone.

A child soldier is cheap to equip, with the proliferation of the AK47, guns are relatively inexpensive around the world including in Africa (an AK47 goes for 20USD).  The other weapon of choice is the machete.  The LRA has carried out many raids just using machetes as they did recently raiding a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo in June of 2009.  Much of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was carried out by the Interhamwe militia which was made up of mostly young people, including children, simply carrying machetes.  Up to one million people were murdered in 100 days, mostly through the use of machetes. 

It has been said that "Children are wet cement,"  you can easily write on their minds with persuasive language such as a Joseph Kony who uses JuJu mixed with religious language taken from Christianity and Islam and portrays himself as a man of great power. The minds of the children are twisted over time into believing that their leader is an almost mystical figure who is in touch with the spirits and knows everything.


Where are Child Soldiers found 2009?

If one asks that question in 2009, the answer will usually be Africa.  If you do an image search for child soldiers on google most images that will come up on your screen are African boys.  You have to make to specialized searches to find child soldiers from non-African conflicts such as Columbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Chechnya, Sri Lanka.

Child soldiers are often not just boys, but many times child soldiers are girls and the number of girls can be quite high.


Who is a Child Soldier?

What you find today is that children are not just used in supportive roles as they may have been in the past, child soldiers make up the face of groups such as the LRA.  The fighting face of the LRA is not Joseph Kony but of the children abducted and turned into killers and soldiers.

Today we have some international treaties that many nations have signed  and  have adopted as their standard. So by definition of the International treaties "Who is a Child Soldier?"

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in Article 38, section 2, states: State Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.

Section 3 continues, stating:  States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavor to give priority to those who are oldest.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines anyone under the age of eighteen as a child in Article 1, section 1.  However, as stated above in section 2, the Convention restricts the definition of who is a child soldier to those under fifteen for armed hostilities or participation in a state’s armed forces


Child Soldiers - Victims or Assailants?

The answer is both.  Their childhood is snatched away, separated from the love of their families, away from school, away from friends, turned into a killing machine.  Brainwashed, at times drugs are freely distributed, under the influence alcohol, the mind confused reality distorted, threatened with loss of life, loss of his family unless he or she performs as ordered.  Life becomes living hell and the child begins to not only fight in combat, but kill in ways that were unimaginable a few months earlier.  Child Soldiers - are both Victim and Assailant.


Child Armies are no match for Conventional Armies which are well trained and well equipped?

Let us take the example of the Lord's Resistance Army where most of the ones who do the fighting are children.  The Uganda People's Defense Force has failed to capture Joseph Kony for 23 years.  The leader of the LRA has been defended time again by child soldiers against an army equipped with helicopters, Tanks, Armed Personnel Carriers, artillery, surveillance equipment and even satellite reports from the US military in recent times during Operation Lightning Thunder in December of 2008 and into 2009.

How can that be?  Most soldiers have never received training in how to deal with child soldiers?  Here you are in battle and discover that the face across from you is a face that could be your younger brother or sister, how do you deal with that?

The methods of groups such as the LRA are not to engage in conventional battle, but to use guerilla tactics. The British army was shocked when one of its patrols was captured by a group of child soldiers in Sierra Leone.  In Uganda the LRA would always use the element of surprise with its hit and run methods and for years they would retreat across the border into South Sudan frustrating the Ugandan Army.  The helicopter gunships, the tanks, the artillery were simply ineffective in eliminating the LRA,

During Operation Lightning Thunder, the armies of three countries, including the UDPF, the DRC Army and the South Sudanese Army diminished the capabilities of the LRA but not defeat it.  It seems that in spite of being literally in the Jungle, the LRA has good intelligence and knew once again they were being attacked and fled, splitting into small groups and melting into the bush.  Turning around and attacking worshippers in a church on Christmas day in the eastern DRC. 

The Ugandan Army, the main force of the three country force had helicopters, jets, American, British and Chinese trained officers, the latest weapons, American military support, the elite troops of the Ugandan Army and yet they did not reach their objective once again.


How do we end the problem Child Soldiers in the world?

Deterrence is one of the solutions:  Prosecuting the perpetrators who recruit, force, abduct children into its army.  In a perfect world that would be most wonderful, but the real question we have to ask is "does it work?"

In Uganda the indictment by the International Criminal Court has prolonged the war.  Joseph Kony did not want to face the music of the International Criminal Court and simply refused to sign the peace agreement without the ICC criminal indictments being lifted.

Does punishing the recruiters of child soldiers work? The fear of punishment kept Joseph Kony from signing a peace agreement and in the long run has led to more killings, destruction and abductions inside of the DRC.  One also has to keep something in mind.  In most cases If a warlord such as Kony wins his war the chances of being prosecuted are less likely.  In order to avoid defeat, there is recruitment of more child soldiers in order to win or keep from being captured.

What about re-integration into the community of the country which they fought?  Again, in the case of Uganda, it is a long road and not always successful.  Child soldiers leave the LRA, but the ghosts of the LRA, the violence, the killings, the nightmares of the soul do not.  The re-training is too short, if the reintegration process is not carefully thought out, there is a return to what they once knew as their ways means of survival - violence.

In Uganda, returned child soldiers are seen as a ticking time bomb by some.  Others see amnesty and reconciliation with the government paying restitution to victims as the answer.  Only time will tell.

In a perfect world, well laid out plans in a logical fashion - work.  But the world where child soldiers live, where warlords and despots such as Kony rule the day, where greed is the great motivator, where the hunger for power is the elixir for its leaders, the logical ways do not seem to work. Maybe in a place such as Uganda, it is the traditional ways of reconciliation of the Acholi People who have been affected the most, but for the most part, the logical planners, the ICC are closed minded to them, just as Joseph Kony is to the voices from the west and from his own people...jon


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Child Soldiers in History

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