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Kronologi over fredssagen og international politik 9. januar
2005 / Time Line January 9, 2005
8. Januar 2005, 10. Januar 2005
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Too Young to Kill
By: Peter W. Singer, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy
Newhouse News Service, January 9, 2005
For most of human history, children have been little more than
footnotes in the annals of warfare.
In the Middle Ages, young pages armed clashing knights. Drummer
boys led Napoleon's armies into battle. In the American Civil War,
boys occasionally donned uniforms, most notably when a unit of 247
Virginia Military Institute cadets fought with the Confederate Army
in the 1864 battle of New Market. In the closing weeks of World War
II, as U.S. forces advanced, Hitler pressed the youth of Germany
into service at the front.
The nature of armed conflict, however, has changed dramatically in
the past few years. Now the presence of children is the rule,
rather than a rarity. The result is that war in the 21st century is
not only more tragic, but more dangerous. Warlords, terrorists and
rebel leaders alike are finding that conflicts are easier to start
and harder to end when children are involved. Children, it turns
out, are relatively easy to recruit and indoctrinate, and they are
more than capable of wielding the deadly tools of modern
The practice of arming children is far more widespread than most
people realize. Around the globe today, there are as many as
300,000 combatants under the age of 18. They serve in 40 percent of
the world's armed forces, rebel groups and terrorist organizations
and fight in almost 75 percent of the world's conflicts. An
additional half-million children serve in armed forces that are not
presently at war.
Some try to quibble with these alarming numbers by raising
questions about cultural standards of maturity. According to this
way of thinking, a 15-year-old boy in some cultures may be as ready
for warfare as an 18-year-old in others.
The problem with this argument is that the 18-and-below definition
of childhood is not some Western construct (as many warlords and
apologists would have it), but rather the international legal
standard, agreed upon by more than 190 countries. It is the age
that almost every nation in the world uses to award or withhold
public rights and responsibilities—such as the right to vote
or to receive free education or health care. It was also a standard
for many pre-modern armies, including the Zulu tribe in Africa and
the Spartans of ancient Greece.
Even if you allow for some age variation, however, the children
fighting today's wars are getting younger and younger—beyond
what any sane person would possibly defend. Eighty percent of
conflicts where children are present include fighters under the age
of 15, and 18 percent of the world's armed organizations have
employed children 12 or under.
In separate studies in Southeast Asia and Central Africa, the
average age of child soldiers was determined to be just under 13.
The youngest ever documented was an armed 5-year-old in Uganda.
And it's not just boys who have been drawn into the fray. About 30
percent of the armed forces that employ child soldiers also include
girls; underage girls have served in the armed forces in 55
countries in recent years. In 27 of these, girls were abducted to
serve, and in 34 they saw combat. Girl soldiers are often singled
out for sexual abuse and have a harder time reintegrating into
society when the wars end.
With the rise of this phenomenon, Western forces have increasingly
come into conflict with children on the battlefield. The first
notable instance was the British Operation Barras in Sierra Leone
in 2000. There, British SAS special forces fought a pitched battle
against the "West Side Boys," a teen militia that had taken a squad
of British Army troops hostage.
The global war on terror launched after 9/11 has also cast a
spotlight on the use of children by terrorist groups. Captured al
Qaeda training videos reveal young boys receiving instruction in
the manufacture of bombs and the setting of explosive booby traps.
The Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas have recruited
children as young as 13 to be suicide bombers and as young as 11 to
smuggle explosives and weapons.
At least 30 suicide bombings have been carried out by young people
since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flared up again in 2000. In
one particularly galling episode, Hamas convinced a semi-retarded
16-year-old boy to strap himself with explosives. He was caught by
Israeli police in the town of Nablus, just before he was expected
to blow himself up at an Israeli army checkpoint.
It is important to note that neither terrorism nor children's roles
in it are a uniquely Muslim or Middle Eastern phenomenon. The
youngest known terrorist, for instance, was a 9-year-old boy in
Colombia, sent by the ELN rebel group to bomb a polling station in
1997. The Tamil LTTE in Sri Lanka, which has used suicide bombers
to kill both the Indian prime minister and the Sri Lankan
president, has manufactured specialized denim jackets to conceal
explosives, tailored in small sizes for child bombers.
Child soldiers are present in every conflict zone U.S. forces now
operate in, from Afghanistan to the Philippines. Indeed, the very
first U.S. soldier killed in the post-9/11 war on terrorism was a
Green Beret killed by a 14-year-old sniper in Afghanistan. U.S.
soldiers continue to report facing child soldiers in Afghanistan;
the youngest on record was a 12-year-old boy captured last year,
after being wounded during an ambush by Taliban fighters.
At least six boys between the ages of 13 and 16 were captured by
U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the initial fighting and taken to the
detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They were housed in a
special wing called "Camp Iguana." For more than a year, the kids
spent their days in a makeshift prison on the beach, watching DVDs
and learning English and math. In addition, several more detainees
between 16 and 18 are thought to be held in the adult facility at
Guantanamo known as "Camp X-Ray."
In Iraq, the problem has quietly grown to dangerous levels. Under
the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq built up an entire apparatus
designed to pull children into the military realm. This included
the Ashbal Saddam ("Saddam's Lion Cubs"), a paramilitary force of
boys between the ages of 10 and 15 that acted as a feeder into the
notorious Saddam Fedayeen units.
The Fedayeen were led by Saddam's son Uday and proved more
aggressive than the Iraqi army in fighting U.S. invasion forces;
their remnants now make up one of the contending insurgent groups.
During the invasion, American forces fought with Iraqi child
soldiers in at least three cities: Nasariya, Mosul and Karbala.
Beaten on the battlefield, rebel leaders have sought to mobilize
this cohort of trained and indoctrinated young fighters. A typical
incident took place in the city of Mosul the same week as President
Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003, when a
12-year-old Iraqi boy fired on U.S. Marines with an AK-47 rifle.
Over the next weeks and months, the number of incidents involving
American forces and armed Iraqi children increased, ranging from
child snipers to a 15-year-old boy who tossed a grenade in an
American truck, blowing off the leg of U.S. Army trooper.
As the fighting picked up intensity last spring, child soldiers
served not only in Saddam loyalist forces, but also in both radical
Shi'a and Sunni insurgent groups. Radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr
directed a revolt that consumed the primarily Shi'a south of Iraq,
with fighting in the holy city of Najaf particularly fierce.
Observers noted multiple child soldiers, some as young as 12,
serving in Sadr's "Mahdi" Army.
Indeed, Sheikh Ahmad al Shebani, al Sadr's spokesman, publicly
defended the use of children, stating, "This shows that the Mahdi
are a popular resistance movement against the occupiers. The old
men and the young men are on the same field of battle."
Coalition forces have increasingly faced child soldiers in the
dangerous "Sunni Triangle" as well. Marines fighting in the battle
to retake Falluja in November reported numerous instances of being
attacked by "children with assault rifles" and wrestling with the
dilemma of returning fire.
As one U.S. soldier fighting in Karbala put it: "Anybody that can
shoot a little kid and not have a problem with it, there is
something wrong with them. Of course I had a problem with it. After
being shot all day, it didn't matter if you were a soldier or a
kid, these RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades, which the children were
attempting to fire at his unit) are meant to hurt us. ... I did
what I had to do."
The overall numbers of Iraqi children involved in the fighting are
not yet known. But the indicators are that they do play a
significant and growing role in the insurgency. For example,
British forces have detained more than 60 juveniles during their
operations in Iraq, while U.S. forces have captured 107 Iraqi
juveniles determined to be "high risk" security threats. Most were
held at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
Ending the tragedy of children at war is thus not only a moral
obligation, but a strategic mandate. An international alliance of
non-governmental organizations, known as The International
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, has brought needed
attention to the issue, but little will happen until
governments—and especially the United States—get
Those seeking to halt the practice must move beyond mere
persuasion—how can you shame the shameless who recruit
children to war?—and work instead to address the underlying
causes and motivations. The key is to reduce the pool of potential
child soldiers and limit the ability and willingness of groups to
Long-term solutions include:
Increasing investment to head off regional conflicts and outbreaks
of disease, including the AIDS pandemic.
Offering greater aid to special at-risk groups such as refugees and
Making the recruitment of children a war crime and prosecuting
offenders in international criminal tribunals.
Reducing profits by sanctioning any firms or regimes that trade
with child-soldier groups (including even American firms, such as
those that traded with the Liberian and Sudanese governments).
Providing increased aid to programs which seek to demobilize and
rehabilitate former child soldiers.
Helping to curb the spread of illegal small arms to rebel and
terrorist groups who bring children into the realm of war.
In each of these areas, U.S. action has fallen woefully short.
Ignoring this problem is no longer an option. The only question is
whether our troops will be properly equipped, trained and supported
to deal with this change in contemporary warfare. The burden is on
leaders, in government and the military, to do all that they can to
reverse this terrible practice.
The rule once held that children have no place in war. It is up to
us to make that a reality once more.
© Copyright 2005 NJ.com
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