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A Child Soldier's Struggle

“I will make my body a bomb that will blast the flesh of Zionists, the sons of pigs and monkeys. I will tear their bodies into little pieces and cause them more pain than they will ever know.” A., age 11

“I joined the anti-Balaka for one reason... because the Seleka made me an orphan. They killed my mother and my father...” Choko, 17

“I didn’t want to do it, but the opposition had killed my family, and I had to join to protect myself.” Lionel, 11

The effects of war, the fighting, shooting, bombs and deaths are sights no one should have to see, least of all children, yet child soldiers more often than not have no choice.

Child soldiers are usually either one of the two: those that join by force, or those that join voluntarily. But in both cases, the effects are the same. They are recruited for a number of different jobs from messengers or spies to fighters, human shields or suicide bombers and once recruited, many are brainwashed, trained, given drugs and then sent into battle with orders to kill. Occasionally educational institutes also play a role in training child soldiers. In a few areas, militant groups run the schools themselves and use these schools as recruiting and training institutes for future child soldiers and terrorists. For example, orphanages in Sri Lanka have shrines set up that honour suicide bombers.

Child soldiers are already victims of severe psychological and emotional trauma, severe battle wounds such as loss of limbs, malnutrition, diseases and some are even executed for the crimes that they were forced to commit. But these children are not allowed relief even after the conflict has ended. There are usually no arrangements, specific treatments or educational facilities available for these former child soldiers to help them reintegrate back into society; female soldiers, in particular, tend to be overlooked and excluded from this process. As a result, most of these children might end up on the streets or become involved in crime.

What is needed for these children are places where they can be safe and recover from the psychological impact of war, where they can receive physical and mental health facilities specially catered for their needs and where they can slowly learn to adapt and reintegrate back into their communities and families. In addition, they should also be taught life skills, be given vocational training and be integrated back into education to provide them with better opportunities in the future.

An education highlighted by its protective nature towards refugee children would establish a sense of security, trust and appreciation along with the encouragement of growth and opportunities. An atmosphere of this nature between students, teachers and the educational body as a whole is vital to mitigate the mentally and physically traumatic effects of active exposure to violence. By submerging this grief-stricken youth in an opportunistically healing environment, a better future for these refugees is preserved. In order to assure the physical protection of students, schools should aim to incorporate lessons on self-defence, how to access basic welfare services such as healthcare and how to respond during emergency situations. Besides this, it is important to allow the student body to participate in the contribution of ideas towards improving safety and rehabilitation protocols. This will allow them to feel involved and will greatly negate the psychological impact of feeling helpless.

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