Child protection is of key importance when considering world conflict

In South Sudan alone there is an estimated 19000 child soldiers in the midst of armed conflicts.

Following the stripping of citizenship from Shemima Begum and the court cases that ensued, what happens to children who have joined wars has become a debate among many. There are some areas of society asserting that Shamima was a child when she was recruited and travelled to join the Islamic State. They are expressing that she should be provided with the duty of care that would be afforded to other children.

On the other hand, there are groups who feel that Shamima made her decision and must face the consequences of her actions.

She is not the only child who has been recruited into war. In South Sudan alone there is an estimated 19000 child soldiers in the midst of armed conflicts. The boys are allegedly trained to fight for their army, while the girls are taken as brides to please the men and breed a new generation of fighters. Within Syria there are thousands more children that are taken from their homes and trained to fight.

The question that arises is what do we do with the children who were taken at nine years upwards and turned into killing machines, who done rifles and machine guns?

Many researchers and countries who can help these children, are concerned about whether they can be reintegrated into society and live normal happy lives without risk to the new caregivers, communities and countries. Citizenship is therefore taken away, and support for the child is revoked.

Reintegration into Society

Chris Blattman has spent many years reintegrating child soldiers. He has found that many have missed out on so much in life, like education, that they feel ongoing humiliation. This leads to a high risk of the children returning to the fight. He suggests that the longer the length of time the children are fighting, the higher the chance of recidivism. Other researchers note the high incidence of the children exchanging one conflict for another, leading to criminality regardless of where they go to assimilate.

The fear that merging children will not work, creates apprehensions when disarming young people. They are treated as terrorists who should not be welcomed back.

Of course, many children that have escaped war, have been successfully reconciled back into their communities. There are also many who end up in refugee camps with little assistance or programmes to support them. Camps within Darfur hold 250000 refugees, of which many are children born to mothers who have escaped war, or the children have been disarmed or demobilised. On the way to the compound they are promised the security of the EU forces and the assertion that they will be safe.

According to Louise Roland-Gosselin, these promises are deceptions. The security is so lacking in fact that senior men at the sites are selling the children back to the militia. Boys from 9 – 15 disappear in full view of the governments in charge of the escapees, despite minimal presence of the EU troops.

How does turning a blind eye fit with the normative beliefs around childhood?

Meet Janine on the Team page, or see the Department pages.

By janine white: culture editor

Within most cultures, the leading discourse is that children should be protected, loved, cherished and cared for. Various versions of the Children’s Act; each relevant for their own country, provides that everyone that encounters a child has a duty of care, to ensure that these needs are met, regardless of the behaviour and history of the child. Their safety is paramount. Phillipe Aries pointed out as early as 1962, that children are quarantined from adulthood within western culture. This, he says, is because they are expected to play, learn and enjoy life before they must take on the burden of the grown-up world.

Within western cultures the blame for children who carry out criminal behaviour is on the government’s failure to intervene in the child’s life when things are not following expectations. Or, the blame goes to the parents for failure to raise their child as prescribed.

Breakdowns of assumed responsibilities can lead to prosecution of parents and repercussions for authorities. Through the implementation of social care, children are protected and rehabilitated if things go wrong; the blame never gets put onto the child. Within the UK, the current belief is that extra provisions and services are needed to support the child to make different choices, if previous choices have been undesirable.

Kirsty McNeill, a campaigner for Save the Children, states that children are victims and must be treated as victims. These children have not been given the consistent care, sense of wellbeing and a way to survive like most children have and they can be rehabilitated with support. Even if the child volunteered to join the child soldiers, the circumstances must be considered. For example, what was the social, structural and political structure that the child was living in previously? Was the militia a better opportunity for them to survive? If so, then it was not free choice to be recruited but necessity.

In the UK, the cultural expectation of childhood is that they are dependent on their caregivers. Children are deemed to be irresponsible and incompetent of making their own decisions.

In the Canadian arctic, children are believed to have no thought processes. They do not understand the rules, beliefs and morals of society as they are too young. They are therefore treated with tolerance and leniency until they are older. To allow for these cultural beliefs to become ingrained, legislation such as UNCRC and The Children’s Act have been implemented. In Africa, there is the Children’s Charter. With these laws, culture has become set in stone that young people are vulnerable and in need of protection, not contempt, until they are 18 years old.

Therefore, the question remains; are the child soldiers a lost cause, alone and helpless due to the failure of society; or could love, security and stability help them to be children once more?

MACKAYAN: the failed become the hopeless