How would your Kids fare as Soldiers? Red Hand Day, 12th February. By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Red Hand Day

I have four children.  The eldest turns eleven this year, the youngest is five.  February 12th is “Red Hand Day”, an internationally recognised day for raising awareness of the plight of “Child soldiers” (anyone under the age of 18 who, for what ever reason, bears arms and fights in a conflict).  On the eve of that day, I think about my own children… each has their own, distinct personality, goals, hopes and aspirations.  They all love to play.  We work hard every day to enable them to attend school, participate in sports and other activities and to try to equip them with skills for their future lives, as so many parents do, all around the world.  As parents in “peaceful” countries, we are busy with day to day life and the tasks involved in raising our kids.  Many prefer not to think about the plights of “other people’s children” in “other countries”, one of the worst of which is that of children made to fight adults’ wars.  Some believe problems such as this are just “too big”, so why even bother thinking about them?

Here at “The Forever Years”, we see the world as a “global family” and believe that this is an important way to think if we are to advocate for the rights of all children everywhere and encourage those who love and care for them.  All people are connected and TV images are not so removed from us as we think.  If we imagine the fate of child soldiers as being that of our own children, we recoil in horror: the low life expectancy, lack of education or play opportunity, the effects of seeing siblings and friends killed, the fact that child soldiers have a high chance of being physically or sexually abused, as well as all the post traumatic shock effects we see in adult soldiers, are soul destroying, to say the least.  You wouldn’t let this happen to your kids– in fact, it’s the very opposite of the protection all our children everywhere deserve.

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Some facts about Child soldiers…

  • Child soldiers are any children under the age of 18 who are recruited by a state or non-state armed group and used as fighters, cooks, suicide bombers, human shields, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes.
  • In the last 15 years, the use of child soldiers has spread to almost every region of the world and every armed conflict. Though an exact number is impossible to define, thousands of child soldiers are illegally serving in armed conflict around the world. 

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    Child soldiers of the resistance Mong Tai Army during training with their commander in Myanmar

  • Children who are poor, displaced from their families, have limited access to education, or live in a combat zone are more likely to be forcibly recruited.  
  • Children who are not forced to be soldiers volunteer themselves, because they feel societal pressure and are under the impression that volunteering will provide a form of income, food, or security, and willingly join the group.  

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    lsis child soldiers

  • Girls make up an estimated 10 to 30 percent of child soldiers used for fighting and other purposes. They are especially vulnerable when it comes to sexual violence.    56bea3630a58a994ccfa78dec2dfb284
  • A few of the countries who have reported use of child soldiers in recent years are  Afghanistan, Burma/ Myanmar, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mali, Pakistan, The Philippines,  Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Uganda and Yemen.  

    Source: www.cnn.com

    Source: www.cnn.com

  • The recruitment of child soldiers breaks several human rights laws.

Source: https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-child-soldiers

For more facts about the reasons for the use of child soldiers in the countries mentioned above, follow the link below…

https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/12/child-soldiers-worldwide

The “Kony Video” in 2012, although unsuccessful in leading to the capture of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA),  in Uganda, was still a victory for child advocacy in that it drew attention to the dire state of affairs with regards to child soldiers around the planet and also drove Kony and his followers into hiding, thus ending his recruitment of child soldiers.

To see another article on “The Forever Years” about Child soldiers, including the famous “Kony Video”, follow the link below:

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/we-neednt-wait-for-conflicts-to-end-for-children-to-be-removed-from-armed-organizations-by-siddharth-chatterjee/

The “Kony Video” is powerful, because  it shows that individuals can focus on a particular area of concern and affect change.  There are a number of online movements and petitions where ordinary people can express their concern at the plight of child soldiers… see the above link above  https://www.dosomething.org/.

UNlCEF’s #childrennotsoldiers campaign provided another such way of expressing support (see pictures below).

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Model UN team @ Liberty North High Sc. MI says they are #ChildrenNotSoldiers after listening to our chief of office Source: https://twitter.com/libertynorthmun

Model UN team @ Liberty North High Sc. MI says they are #ChildrenNotSoldiers after listening to our chief of office Source: https://twitter.com/libertynorthmun

Secretary-General Photo op for #ChildrenNotSoldiers social media campaign by and armed conflict.

Secretary-General Photo op for #ChildrenNotSoldiers social media campaign by and armed conflict. Source: https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/ar/secretary-general-photo-op-for-childrennotsoldiers-social-media-campaign-by-and-armed-conflict-5/

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United Nations News Centre

The resource below could be useful when discussing the issue of child soldiers with kids.

Other good sites with ideas and resources for helping raise awareness and ending the plight of child soldiers:

http://culturesofresistance.org/end-child-soldiers

https://www.warchild.org.uk/issues/child-soldiers

http://www.peacedirect.org/child-soldiers

Of course “Red Hand Day” provides another opportunity to promote awareness around the globe.  These kids deserve better… they are “our” children too.

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Moving Forward from a Childhood under the Khmer Rouge, by Pisey Leng

1431947088727Even though I was only seven years old, my childhood ended abruptly on April 17, 1975. That was the day the Communist Khmer Rouge guerilla forces captured the city of Phnom Penh and Cambodia fell under the control of a murderous regime whose reign of terror resulted in the deaths of almost two million Cambodians.

As the mostly teen-aged soldiers marched into our city, they had flowers in the muzzles of their guns and waved to the crowds of Cambodians who celebrated their peaceful arrival. The celebration quickly turned into chaos when the Khmer Rouge soldiers began to order people from their homes and into the streets where they began a forced death-march into the countryside. Within two days, my parents, my older brother and I walked with two million other Cambodians who were forced from their homes leaving the city of Phnom Penh completely deserted. Those who protested or did not leave quickly enough were shot. No one was spared.

My eighth birthday passed during that terrifying three-month march where most of the sick and elderly died on the sides of the road. Shortly after we arrived at our labor camp, my father and brother were taken away to work in different mobile work groups. We were told that the Khmer Rouge leaders were our family and we now lived in the year zero. There was no music, manufacturing, mail, toilet facilities, medicine, motor vehicles or anything to make life easy or enjoyable. There was only work and death. Cambodia was brought back to the pre-industrial age in a radical social experiment that was horribly flawed.

My father was executed about six months after we were forced from the city and it was painfully obvious that death was the most likely outcome of our own ordeal. The Khmer Rouge’s leader Pol Pot condemned anything modern or western and blamed the plight of Cambodia’s peasant farmers on those who lived in the city. Professional and skilled workers were executed along with anyone who spoke a foreign language or wore glasses. Anyone who was even suspected of any formal education was murdered.

To read more, follow the link below…

http://www.proctorgallagherinstitute.com/6222/seek-happiness

Pisey Leng, who now lives in New Zealand, was born in Cambodia in 1968.  She has recently written a book about living under the Khmer Rouge as a child, and how this effected her later life.  Her book is entitled: The Wisdom Seeker: Finding the Seed of Advantage in the Khmer Rouge. 

Related Links:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/68624713/memoirs-of-a-cambodian-survivor

A message I wrote to Pisey Leng and her reply:

From Kirsteen McLay-Knopp:  An amazing story, Pisey Leng. As a New Zealander who has been to Cambodia and spent time living in Vietnam, I am so glad you were able to make Aotearoa into your new home and a place where you could find peace. 🙂

From Pisey Leng:  Kirsteen, Thank you. As I said New Zealand holds a very special place in my heart. Aotearoa gave me a heavenly home after 14 years of labour camps and refugee camps not knowing where my life would end up. It has given me much more than just a home. It has given me a new life, stability, hope and identity as a person. I’m no longer just a number in the labour camps or refugee camps. I can now walk proudly as a rightful citizen of Aotearoa. I’m Truly Blessed.

 

Is Education a Human Right? By Professor Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey

Classroom(Originally Published in “The Huffington Post”.  Follow link below).

Editor’s Note:  Of course, here at “The Forever Years”, we believe that ALL children should have the opportunity to an education, particularly considering the enormous, positive difference that this makes! 🙂

Going beyond the rhetoric, should access to education be legally protected and addressed as a human right under international law? Education is increasingly highlighted as fundamental to the advancement of societies as well as essential to opportunity for individuals. Both the opportunity but also the right are too frequently unequal and arbitrarily secured. Girls have too often been shortchanged. Poverty and conflict frequently are obstacles as children barely in their teens are compelled to support hungry families or some are forced to become “child soldiers” or “comfort wives.” Malala Yousafzai, targeted by the Pakistani Taliban for assassination for promoting education for her generation of young men and women, stands out as a symbol for millions who are denied opportunity and access. What more can be done both in practice and definition by the United Nations and International Community?

Photo Credit: UNESCO

Photo Credit: UNESCO

(Read more at the following link…)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/montclair-diplomats/is-education-a-human-right_b_4869049.html

“We needn’t wait for conflicts to end for children to be removed from armed organizations.” By Siddharth Chatterjee

C.Soldiers CollageThe Kony 2012 video viewed by nearly 100 million people stunned the world and brought back into focus the egregious use of children as combatants. The blatant terror and savagery taking place in a moral vacuum of sorts, where thousands of children are maimed, raped, killed and abused is a microcosm of a problem afflicting many parts of the world. It even spurred some U.S. Senators to act upon the decades of crimes against humanity committed by the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.

Human Rights Watch confirmed reports of child soldiers being used extensively in recent weeks by the M 23 rebel group in the Congo. Young children continue to be recruited and used as soldiers, scarring them for life. Estimates suggest that as many as 300,000 child soldiers are active in conflicts around the world. 40% of armed forces (including national armies, militias, gangs, terrorist organizations and resistance forces) in the world use children.

Many erroneously believe that child soldiers are mostly boys. In fact, 30% of armed organizations that use children have girls. Girl soldiers aren’t just at risk for long-lasting physical and psychological wounds, they are almost always at risk of often brutal sexual violence as well.

Over 30% of children used as combatants are girls. Photo Credit: ©2006 Peter Mantello.

Over 30% of children used as combatants are girls. Photo Credit: ©2006 Peter Mantello.

The other fallacy is that the issue of child soldiers is isolated to armed militias in parts of Africa. Child soldiers have been used by armed groups in recent and ongoing conflicts in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South America. Moreover, some governments also recruit and use children under the age of 18 in their armed forces.

(To read further, follow the link below…)

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/12/09/for-child-soldiers-every-day-is-a-living-nightmare/

 

(See also “the Kony Video”, below… riveting watching about this very important topic and a lesson to us all about how individuals CAN make a difference for our global family.  🙂 )

Editor’s Note (by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp)

Just a follow up note to “the Kony Video”… Joseph Kony is still alive, although there have been reports that he has poor health.  He has evaded capture so far.  However, the world wide campaign in 2012 (in the video), forced him (once he realised that he was “wanted”) to go into hiding… with the result that thousands of children who would otherwise have become his soldiers are, instead, in school and living “normal” young lives.