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War - What is it good for?
Causes of war
Impacts of war
Injury or death
War breaks up families
Painful memories
Child soldiers
A shattered land
Weapons vs welfare
Stages of conflict
Case study: Rwanda - Part 1

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Child soldiers
While 'playing' war is a universal child's game, being trapped in the horror of armed conflict is a living nightmare for too many children today. This growing use of child soldiers is one of the most disturbing trends in warfare of recent years.

It is estimated that over 250 000 children under 18 years old are fighting in armed conflicts. Some are just eight years old. These children are not as big or strong as adult soldiers, but with light modern weapons, they can kill almost as easily.

Most countries have rules to stop anyone under 15, or sometimes 18, getting into an army. They know it's not good for children to learn to fight. The trouble is, most wars today are fought inside countries. This makes it difficult to prevent the use of child soldiers.

Desperate governments recruit children to join the military during times of war. Rebel groups, for their part, often force children into service as soldiers or slaves. Still others join military groups of their own accord, hoping that a gun and uniform will be their ticket out of poverty and powerlessness. These groups don't mind how young their soldiers are, so long as they can do the job.

Facts about child soldiers
• It is estimated that some 250 000 children under 18 served as soldiers in 1995.
• Combatting factions in Afghanistan have allowed boys of nine to fight.
• The Khmer Rouge of Cambodia taught children to kill civilians, even their own parents, if they disagreed with their new rulers.
• The Iranian army sent unarmed 10-year-olds ahead as mine sweepers. More than 50 000 Iranian children aged 12 to 15 were killed as child soldiers in the war with Iraq.
• In Peru and the Sudan, denouncements by churches and humanitarian agencies helped reduce the number of children forcibly recruited as soldiers.

     Exploring the issue of child soldiers

  1. Read Irene’s story.
  2. List the phrases in the story that let you know Irene had a miserable experience as a child soldier.
  3. Prepare a presentation on the issue of child soldiers for the United Nations. Include:
    * What or who do you feel is responsible for the increase in child soldiers today?
    * What do you think might be the long-term consequences of this trend?
    * What steps would you suggest for combating the problem?