I am a public health professional. As such, one of my passions is preventive health for all population groups. But more so for children. We adults owe it to them to protect them because it is the right thing to do. Jesus’ predilection toward children is exemplified in His admonition to His disciples who were trying to downplay the significance of this population group to the Lord: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” (Matthew 19:14).

Graça Machel, widow of former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was entrusted with the task of conducting research on the impact of armed conflict on children by the United Nations Centre for Human Rights and the United Nations Children’s Fund in 1995. The ensuing Report is a significant resource for the evaluation of the human rights of children affected by armed conflict or war. The Report highlights the multidimensional plight of children under these circumstances including indiscriminate and senseless slaughter, rape, exploitation, health and nutritional deprivation, separation from families, and the isolation of children placed in refugee camps as a result of war. Armed conflicts are often triggered by an array of political and socioeconomic differences between the warring parties. However, these conflicts are never limited to the sphere of the antagonists only. There is always the issue of collateral damage with the most vulnerable individuals within the sphere of that conflict experiencing the worst form of suffering. One callous strategy characterizing modern wars is the exploitation and conscription of children as child soldiers in which they are programmed to conduct the most heinous atrocities to satisfy their recruiters’ Mephistophelian thirst for blood.

Max Easterman from the Stanley Foundation reports that although the global attention has mostly focused on child soldiers in Africa, industrialized nations also recruit children younger than 18 years as soldiers. For example, the United Kingdom allows children aged 15 ¾ years old to join the army as “junior soldiers.” These child soldiers are subjected to most of the problems their counterparts face around the world as child soldiers. At the Army Foundation College located outside of Harrogate in Northern England, more than a thousand “junior soldiers” aged 16 and 17 are being trained as soldiers each year. Motivation for signing up includes opportunities to travel abroad, holding a steady job with predictable income, and an opportunity to obtain both a military education as well as a civilian one. These “junior soldiers” are allowed to sign up at this age so that by the time they begin training they are at least 16 years old. The reason for recruiting at such an early age, according to Major Dickie Hamzart, the company commander, is that “I think it gets us a better army…They can be molded, even though the decisions they have to make are quite daunting for them, initially…. If we don’t start recruiting at this early age, these people will get into long-term relationships, will look at other aspects of their life in a settled job…. They won’t look to the Army for a career, and they’ll be lost to us.” Children become killer machines without proper comprehension of reasons for killing other human beings except that which has been indoctrinated in them.

What is astonishing is that children are sometimes made to commit monstrous violence in order to “toughen them” or “mold” them into “good” soldiers and yet it is scientifically factual that exposure to violence and participation in its perpetration only desensitizes the children so that they think nothing of committing similar atrocities to their own friends and family members as was the case in Mozambique, Nicaragua, Colombia and Afghanistan. The Machel Report adds Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Israel, Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Uganda and Zimbabwe to the list. This seems to me like a global indictment. We are in it together, one way or another. The suffering of the children in the form of psychological and physical maiming is a blatant affront to the moral impetus that inspired the crafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Exposing children to armed conflict whether as active combatants or as a passive victims adversely affects all aspects of their development including physical, mental and emotional development. The disruption of normal food supplies, the destruction of crops in the strategy of scotched earth, the disintegration of the family and community social and moral fiber, the displacement to strange environments and countries, the disruption of their education, the lack of access to proper medical care, sanitation and clean water supplies almost irrevocably ruin the future of these children victims.

We have taken what Jesus elevated to a model population group and sullied it by using it as a tool for quenching our thirst for vendettas. Lord, forgive us.

Sources

Easterman, M. (2003). Britain’s Very Young Guns. Accessed January 16, 2015 from http://www.warchildren.org/young_guns.html

United Nations Report of Graça Machel (1996). Impact of armed conflict on children. United Nations; UNICEF. Accessed January 16, 2015 from http://www.unicef.org/graca/

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