This Day in Fact

I have known a few people who were child soldiers.  The first one I met was a youngster in the South African Defence Force called Blignaut…he wasn’t more than 16 years old.  Certainly he had not reached puberty yet.  I had to stop him getting molested in the showers once.  In the anti-Apartheid underground in Cape Town there were any number of children I was working with involved in conflict with security forces.   Mostly they hid weapons and were on the street throwing stones.  Then there was Pascal, a street child we found in Pretoria.  He had been involved in the genocide in Rwanda. He had to kill people with a panga and was seriously post-traumatic.  Finally there is Tesfu, my Eritrean friend who was fighting in the Eritrean war of independence against Ethiopia from the age of 12. He works at the local fruit and veg’ store at the bottom of my street.  All of these people are deeply wounded souls, suffering as a direct result of their experiences.

Today is Red Hand Day, an annual commemoration day on which pleas are made to political leaders and events are staged around the world to draw attention to the fate of child soldiers, children who are forced to serve as soldiers and in support capacities in wars and armed conflicts. Children make excellent soldiers as their moral development has not reached a stage where they are able to distinguish between good and evil.  Their capacity for learning and their physical agility fits them well to the tasks of soldiering.  They are also smaller than adults and thus can be physically intimidated by adults who command them.  Finally enemy troops may be loathe to fire upon children.

The aim of Red Hand Day is to call for action against using children in armed conflicts and to support children who are affected by it. Children have been used repeatedly as soldiers over centuries and in recent years in armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Myanmar, Philippines, Colombia, and Palestine.

–  Douglas Racionzer