Today across the globe there are approximately 300,000 children armed with AK-47s and hand grenades participating in domestic conflicts. Although these conflicts occur in developing nations in South America and Asia, they are often focused in Africa, and today in particular, in the Central African Republic.This rapid mobilization of child soldiers has been alarming for the international community as it tries to reconcile this new threat and the ratification of treaties and peace accords that delineate expectations for the rights and protection of children around the world.
The CAR conflict between governmental forces and the Skeleka rebels has lasted several months, even after a peace agreement was was reached in January. This past week, a United Nations official voiced concerns about the rights of children affected by the conflict in the CAR as human rights violations by the Skeleka rebels are numerous. The UN is worried about the future of these children because the rebels are participating in sexual violence and child recruitment, as well as other human rights abuses.
Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has called on military officials in the CAR to release children immediately from their service as soldiers, but still there are countless examples of child participants.
Conflicts in which child soldiers are employed generally occur in societies that suffer from social, political and economic weaknesses. These problems create conditions which are breeding grounds for the recruitment, and re-recruitment, of children. Children who feel powerless, hungry and vulnerable are both targeted and actively seeking out the protection, strength, food and shelter that these militias can provide.
The UN has become increasingly concerned with how to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers and how to rehabilitate them. One of the most important criteria in both preventing and rehabilitating children is the provision of education. Sadly, education in the CAR is tenuous at best. The literacy rates of young adults are unfortunate, only 27% of young women and 51% of young men are literate and educational opportunities are limited due to the current conflict. Education is becoming a casualty of the conflict as teachers, who more often than not are community volunteers and not trained educators, are fleeing the war and leaving young students in the lurch. The offense, which was launched in December, has left 1.2 million people cut off from essential services, vulnerable to human rights violations and without access to education.
The social, economic and political situations that define many African communities, like those in the CAR conflict zones, create opportunities for the recruitment of child soldiers. To help with the reintegration of child soldiers, and to prevent their recruitment, it is necessary to improve these conditions. The CAR could likely ameliorate its child soldier problem by improving the institutional systems that affect these three areas, beginning with education. It is necessary that the conditions that foster the recruitment of child soldiers be changed in order to improve and develop society and to protect the rights of children around the world. This, clearly, will be a long and arduous process, but will be beneficial for individuals, communities and the international community in the long term.