The injustice that I am interested in discussing is the use of child soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. This is a very widespread, but not very often mentioned human rights issue in public discourse. The severity of the issue and the general lack of understanding of the full context of the issue prompted me to investigate further and base my injustice report on it.
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) defines child soldiers as "any child—boy or girl—under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity.” The issue of child soldiers being used in armed conflicts is much larger than the general public seems to believe. 23 armed conflicts around the world use child soldiers, with the average age of a child soldier being 14, 59% of them being girls, which totals to around 300,000 child soldiers being used in armed conflicts around the world. The use of child soldiers in armed conflicts around the world is not a new phenomenon; it has been occurring since armed conflicts have existed, however, the recent increase in the use of child soldiers has brought the issue back to the forefront.
Just as the issue itself is widespread, the causes for the issue are widespread as well. Poor socioeconomic conditions are one of the main driving factors for one to become a child soldier; that is, one becomes a child soldier because they have no other means to survive and provide for their families, which in turns leads to cases of families actually supporting their children to become child soldiers. Other factors which cause the issue of child soldiers to be so widespread are the fact that children as seen as loyal combatants who enthusiastically obey orders, weapons have become smaller, easier to use, and more deadly which results in children easily being able to handle weaponry, and that socioeconomic unrest leads to angry youth whom see joining an army as a way of exacting revenge on what they believe to be the cause of their strife. In various parts of Africa, for example, and ongoing AIDS epidemic has created up to 40 million orphans, which has created a “hotbed” for hopeless and angry youth to join military conflict as a way to escape their hardships.
Child soldiers are victims of countless injustices daily. They are often forced to commit atrocities such as rapes, beheadings, amputations, and burning people alive. In addition to being physically in harms way on a regular basis, child soldiers often suffer severe mental health problems as a result of the combat they have participated in. In Sri Lanka, for example, over one-third of child soldiers fighting in an anti-government militia have been diagnosed with a variety of mental health issues ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. In turn, this makes it nearly impossible for surviving child soldiers to reintegrate into society which only amplifies their suffering and the overall injustice of the issue.
In an attempt to combat the issue, various human rights groups have set up initiatives to rehabilitate demobilized child soldiers, but these groups have had a difficult time addressing the full scope of the issue as it is a very widespread problem. If one wishes to truly curtail the issue, first and foremost, the conflicts in which child soldiers are being used must be ended, limitations on the proliferations of small arms must be put in place, sanctions, and prosecution must all be used in ways which address the unique nature of the issue, which changes based on the conflict's location in the world. The International Criminal Court has been active in attempting to prosecute military leaders who have been using child soldiers in their armies, notably, issuing arrest warrants for the LRA in Uganda. Furthermore, due to international pressure, some governments around the world have taken action to combat the issue within their own countries such as in Sierra Leone, where the country's high court began prosecuting military leaders who used child soldiers in 2004.
Students such as ourselves can play a part in combatting this issue as well. Donating to the vast array of human rights groups currently fighting the issue of child soldiers is one of the best ways we can help. UNICEF and Child Soldiers International are leading the initiative and are most likely the best option to choose. Furthermore, appealing to your local lawmaker to revise the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008 is also an effective way of combatting the issue. This law states that the United States would not aid countries or military forces which use child soldiers in their conflicts, however, a loophole exists which waives this notion if said country or military force is working in the “interest of the United States.” This has prompted outcry from groups trying to curtail this issue, as it is seen as the U.S. only caring about the issue if it damages their national interests.