By Mark A. Drumbl
Because of the Kony 2012 campaign, everyone is talking about the Lord’s Resistance Army, its deranged leadership, and its many victims in northern Uganda, notably child soldiers. Talk is intense.
Amid the constant chatter, however, two crucial issues remain neglected. First, what does justice mean for child soldiers? Second, what contribution does Kony 2012 make to the prevention of child soldiering world-wide?
The Kony 2012 campaign encourages LRA leader Joseph Kony’s capture and transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face a slew of charges. Included among these charges is the war crime of unlawful recruitment, enlistment, or active use of children under the age of fifteen in hostilities. Coincidentally, last week the ICC entered its first conviction. The defendant, Thomas Lubanga, is a rebel warlord from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Notwithstanding his implication in systematic killings and sexual torture, Lubanga faced only one charge, namely, unlawful recruitment of child soldiers.
Although it remains a war crime to recruit children younger than fifteen, international law increasingly understands child soldiers as being under the age of eighteen. Most child soldiers, after all, are not young children. Most are adolescents, with many aged between fifteen and seventeen. The very young child soldier is an extreme case. Focusing on the extremes, however compelling, also sensationalizes.
Criminally prosecuting and convicting commanders who unlawfully recruit children into armed forces or groups is a step towards justice. But it is only a small step. It is easy to blame a handful of crazed commanders for child soldiering. But the ease of blame fails to uproot the many factors that conspire to facilitate child soldiering. These factors include the small arms trade, state political alliances, poverty, and illegal export of pilfered natural resources. The criminal law presents the allure of the quick-fix — if a couple of evildoers are convicted, the job is done, and justice has been achieved. Such closure, however, is premature. Justice entails much more. It requires reintegrating child soldiers into their communities and supporting local actors. It requires listening to former child soldiers and their priorities, which often include education, reconciliation, and jobs — not distant trials. It requires restoration for persons affected by the violent acts of child soldiers. At times, ironically, long-term justice may depend on short-term injustice. In Uganda, generous use of amnesties from criminal prosecution has helped weaken the LRA by encouraging fighters to abandon the group.
The Kony 2012 campaign and the Lubanga conviction are catalyzing events, to be sure. But these catalyzing events also have a shadow side. The image of child soldiering that they communicate to the public is not representative of the complexities of child soldiering as a whole.
The image du jour of the child soldier is Africanized. Yet only about 40% of child soldiers world-wide are in Africa. Child soldiering is a global phenomenon. The image du jour is of the abducted child soldier barely able to carry automatic weaponry and ammunition belts slung across shoulders and waists. Although this may be the case for LRA child conscripts, world-wide most child soldiers are neither abducted nor forcibly conscripted. Overall, approximately two-thirds of child soldiers exercise some initiative in coming forward to enroll. Frequently, this volunteerism is chimerical. But, at other times, it is quite real. Young people sign up to achieve political goals, topple dictators, acquire training, achieve economic gains, serve their community, and make the best of a bad situation. They suffer terribly in conflict, but it can be counterproductive to stylize child soldiers as dehumanized tools of war. Treating them as automatons programmed to k
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
Reviewed by: Chris Singer
About the author:
Mitali Perkins (mitaliperkins.com) was born in India and immigrated to the States with her parents and two sisters when she was seven. Bengali-style, their names rhyme: Sonali means “gold,” Rupali means “silver,” and “Mitali” means “friendly.” Mitali had to live up to her name because her family moved so much — she’s lived in India, Ghana, Cameroon, England, New York, Mexico, California, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Massachusetts.
Mitali studied political science at Stanford University and Public Policy at U.C. Berkeley before deciding to try and change the world by writing stories for young readers. Now she’s settled in Newton, a town just outside of Boston, where she writes full-time.
About the book:
Chiko isn’t a fighter by nature. He’s a book-loving Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. Tu Reh, on the other hand, wants to fight for freedom after watching Burmese soldiers destroy his Karenni family’s home and bamboo fields. Timidity becomes courage and anger becomes compassion as each boy is changed by unlikely friendships formed under extreme circumstances.
This coming-of-age novel takes place against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma. Narrated by two fifteen-year-old boys on opposing sides of the conflict between the Burmese government and the Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma, Bamboo People explores the nature of violence, power, and prejudice.
My take on the book:
In reading Bamboo People, this was my introduction to the works of Mitali Perkins. I was interested in reviewing this book due to my own personal experience several years ago teaching independent living skills to Burmese refugee youth. Almost all of the youth I met were either former child soldiers or had been orphaned due to the conflict in their country.
With that in mind, I found Ms. Perkins’ book to be a fascinating opportunity for readers to enter a world, occupied by youth similar in age to themselves, but characterized by horrible conflict and fear. The two main characters (Chiko and Tu Reh) are youth from opposing sides of the Burmese conflict. Chiko’s father was imprisoned as an “enemy of the state” for reading books. Chiko’s family is desperate for money so he answers a newspaper ad requesting teachers. The ad is a ruse however and he gets captured and conscripted into the army. Tu Reh is a Karenni refugee who lost his home and village to Burmese soldiers. He is understandably driven to enter the conflict by revenge but the words of his wise father keep him guessing his own intentions. Both main characters have their own internal conflicts, some typical of adolescent youth the world over, which will make them quite relatable for young readers.
Both characters eventually meet up under extraordinary circumstances. As the story comes to its c
By Susan C. Mapp
On December 23, 2002, the United States ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This document defines a “child soldier” as a person under the age of 18 involved in hostilities. This raises the minimum age from the age of 15 set in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Neuroscience is now providing us with the tools to see what many have long suspected: the adolescent brain has not yet fully developed. In particular, the prefrontal cortex, which regulates complicated decision-making and calculation of risks and rewards is not yet fully developed. The American Bar Association used this knowledge in its support of the ban on the death penalty for minors.
Article 7 of this document states that nations who are parties to it will cooperate in the, “rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons who are victims.” The Declarations and Reservations made by US related primarily its recruitment of 17-year-olds and noting that the ratification did not mean any acceptance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child itself, nor the International Criminal Court, thus indicating its acceptance of Article 7.
However, the United States frequently detains and incarcerates child soldiers. The United Nations has noted the “presence of considerable numbers of children in United States-administered detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan” (p.6). The New York Times states the U.S. report to the UN regarding its compliance with the Optional Protocol states that it has held thousands of children in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. The same report also states that a total of eight children have been held at Guantanamo Bay.
The United States is currently in the process of trying a child soldier who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for the past 8 years. Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, is accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer. Omar was 15 years old at the time, well below the minimum age for child soldiers. The head of UNICEF, a former U.S. national security advisor, has stated his opposition to the trial:
The recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime, and those who are responsible – the adult recruiters – should be prosecuted. The children involved are victims, acting under coercion. As UNICEF has stated in previous statements on this issue, former child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution.
The Paris Principles, principles and guidelines on children associated with armed groups, was developed in 2007 to provide guidance on these issues. Developed by the United Nations, it has been endorsed by 84 nations as of 2009, not including the United States. It states that “Children … accused