Compared to the number of child soldiers last year, the number of Middle Eastern and North African child soldiers has at least doubled, UN report has stated. With conflicts still rampant in the Middle East and in North Africa, both militia and government armed forces continue to recruit and train child soldiers. These children in both the Middle East and North Africa are often teens and preteens, but it is not surprising to see children as young as ten.
In Syria, child soldiers are among the ranks of both the Syrian opposition and the Syrian Arab army. With Syria experiencing massive losses since 2011 as a result of the Syrian conflict, the solution for multiple factions lies in the children. Due to the manpower shortages, many factions recruit children to fill up the ranks that are empty. The Syrian armed forces, as well as many other forces simply seek bodies to help their war effort, disregarding children’s’ adolescence.
Factions also recruit children because it is easier to manipulate them. Children not only complete the task of fighting in the battle, but they also are guards, paramedics, porters, spies, messengers and sadly, they also compete suicidal missions. The girls who are kidnapped in war can be traded among the armed forces, thus making them more susceptible to rape and sexual violence. Although the war effort sustains child soldiers, child soldiers are a critical factor that sustain wars and conflicts through many ways.
Though it seems as if forcing children to be soldiers is the primary way to attain child recruits, it is not. In fact, many children voluntarily go to the armed forces. With violence all around, children join the armed forces for protection, honor, and money. James, 17, voluntarily joined an armed force in South Sudan when he was just in primary school. “I was happy when they gave me a gun. I felt safe I felt like I could protect myself,” says James. Because situations are so turbulent, the possession of guns presents children with a better chance of survival. Many children have the mentality of killed or be killed.
Other children believe that fighting in the war will lead them to paradise or heaven. With many of the factions, one being AL-Qaeda, being religious based, children see fighting as a “religious duty.” To some children, being a soldier provides honor to their family, their religion, and even themselves.
Although honor is a reason children join, it is not the primary incentive. Many armed forces entice children with persuasion and money to volunteer. In Yemen, the child soldiers’ primarily motive is income. By fighting in the war, children receive income which they utilize to provide for the families back home. With Yemen in a distratuos state: on the brink of famine, few jobs, and a poor economy; families see child soldiers as an unfortunate but necessary step to survive. Children are simply trying to survive, and fighting in the war is a step that they some children have take to live.
Due to their circumstances and conditions, the many conflicts strip children of their childhood. These teens and preteens fight for protection, honor, or money rather than being in school and learning. Rather than learning math and reading, they have to learn the language of war. Rather than learning about the history of wars and conflicts, unfortunately, they have become a part of it. Rather than playing games with friends after school, these children run for their lives.
Sadly, UN efforts to appease the rate of child soldiers has not been effective, and the reintegration program for ex-child soldiers has also not been productive. Many think that the end of child soldiers will only come with the end of the conflicts in those regions. With both factions, ant-gov, pro-gov, and even the children themselves willing to recruit or be child soldiers, the end of this sad institution seems to be in the far future.