The African continent has acquired notoriety in the use of children as soldiers in the various wars and conflict zones which litter the continent. This development is sad, unacceptable and must be stopped if the continent must produce youths who would pursue its progress, prosperity and peace in the 21st century.A recent study by the United Nations UN, indicates that no fewer than 300,000 children whose ages are between nine and 15 years are involved in the various wars and conflicts across the globe with the African continent accounting for over 40 per cent of the figure.
A child-soldier is a child who is under the age of 15 and recruited into the army to fight in war or armed conflict as a solider. Although most of these child-soldiers are boys, the latest study showed that girls are also recruited for both war and for sex. In fact, a nine-year-old girl was recently rescued in South Sudan as a child-soldier. There was also an instance where a 14-year-old boy was rescued and he confessed to have fought in the conflict zone for five years. The implication is that the child-soldier got recruited as early as nine years by the war protagonists when they should, indeed, be in school.
In the African continent, South-Sudan, Sudan and Somalia have become hotbeds and theatres of war and conflicts where children are routinely recruited to join the war efforts. In South Sudan, for instance, UN estimates that no fewer than 120,000 children are involved in the war while the region has as much 800,000 children who are either engaged in the war currently or had done so in the past.
Expectedly, there are children currently involved in these wars and conflicts that had never been to school and who may never be to school. This is especially true of South Sudan which has been embroiled in internal conflict since her separation from Sudan. Today, there are children born in that country who have not known peace and may not know peace for a long time to come. Indeed, the culture now gaining ground in the region is to buy AK-47 guns for the male children and commission them as herdsmen by their families. These children cannot fit into a normal society.
Indeed, the situation in South Sudan is not different in other war and conflict zones in the continent. In Nigeria, Chad, Niger and the Cameroon, children have been used as suicide bombers by the Boko Haram insurgents terrorizing the sub-region, though with heavier presence in Nigeria where it is estimated to have killed over 4000 people and displaced over 2 million residents from their homes.
The widespread use of children as soldiers in Africa portends grave danger for the future of the continent and its people. There is no gain saying the fact that armed children are a terror to everybody around them, more so, when they do not have the benefit of attending school to have their consciences duly sensitized or enlightened to know what is right or wrong, and to read and write.
These children assuming they are discharged from the army – as it is wont to be one day – will be drawn away from modernity and the trending developments in science, information and communication technology. What kind of future would these children encounter without basic education?
This is why African political elite and leaders must rise up now and confront this heinous crime of using children to prosecute war in the continent. The African Union must not shy away from taking the necessary steps to punish its members who use children for war and conflict purposes.
The global community should also rise and help African countries where children are currently being used as soldiers. Beyond ensuring that these conflicts are brought to an end, the global community should also pursue the prosecution of such leaders who used children as soldiers during such conflicts.
Some of the countries in the Continent where child-soldiers are common place are Sudan, South Sudan Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, and before now, Rwanda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone as well as Mali’, Chad and Cameroon. Although Nigeria does not have child-soldiers, there are indications that the Boko Haram insurgents operating in the North East of the country use children for suicide attacks. They also use girls for sex. Indeed, most of the people rescued by the military from the war zone do not include teenage boys and girls.
Even then, the continent’s political elite and leaders must learn to play politics with morality and rules of the game. Whereas, elections and change in government are routine occurrences in other climes, the same cannot be said to be the case in Africa. Here, leaders usually resort to armed conflicts to effect power change in their countries. The events in Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone are still fresh. Those leaders who are currently opposed to peaceful change of power in their countries must be pressured to handover power honourably when they lose elections.
There is no justification for Africa to use over $502 billion, representing one-fifth of her annual Gross Domestic Product, GDP, to procure arms and ammunition to prosecute avoidable wars and conflicts in the continent. This wastage must stop now.