What responsibility does the world bear for rehabilitating child soldiers?

The cost of supplying aid to developing countries is a hotly debated subject. With the global financial crisis still strangling parts of the developed world, many governments and NGO’s are contemplating the feasibility and affordability of continuing certain projects for aid to certain nations.  At times like this, foresight can be a challenging thought.  In some instances though, the cost invested in rehabilitation, reintegration (and moreover, prevention) can lead to an easing of the further financial burdens that some problems create.  Our own social responsibility is another element altogether.

Around 20% of the Burmese army’s population is made up of children.  Amnesty International estimates that 30 000 member’s of the armed forces and armed groups in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are children too.  Forces in Mozambique are reported to have had at on stage, at least 10 000 child soldiers – some of them only six years old.  In 1988, children under the age of sixteen who had fought in wars numbered in excess of 200 000.  With increased proliferation world-wide of small arms, these numbers can only have climbed.

The consequences of such involvement (and death is the most immediate and obvious result) are vast and long-lasting.  Oftentimes, many of the effects of enlistment and involvement in a conflict (which is mostly as a result of force, rather than any active will to participate) however short, are permanent scars on yet to mature psyches – and their physical beings too.

Countries where child soldiers are most used, often lack sufficient means to provide proper healthcare and surgery needed for an amputation, for example.  Worse still, some families simply aren’t in a position to pay for their children to undergo such procedures.  Overcoming these obstacles, there is still the deep psychological effects to bear in mind – especially because they have often been conceived so early in the child’s life, when a vast majority of their psyche is being formed by their daily experiences.  Research has often found that reintegration into normal society for former child soldiers – where violence isn’t necessarily an accepted means of conflict resolution (and where is this really acceptable in any case?) – is impossible, or near to it.  The lasting effects that this struggle to integrate can have, only serve to make darker an already grim reality for a child who will have to endure alienating themselves from their friends, their family and their community.

The small arms that are being supplied and traded around the world – the vast majority of them originating from first world countries – are rarely (if ever) sold, trafficked, bought or supplied with a view to their ultimate end, or consideration for the damage they will cause, in the hands they will end up in.  – And as can be seen, this damage isn’t necessarily limited to those opposing whoever controls the trigger.

80-90% of small arms that eventually end up everyplace other than where they are initially intended to go, begin their life on the legal market, manufactured for gun users in the world’s biggest gun using countries.  In the United States – the source of the world’s largest small- arms export – it has often been said that the need for a gun (which is so prevalent in the country) has driven sales of small-arms worldwide.  Surveys have found that the US accounts for more than half of the worldwide total for the import of pistols and revolvers, and almost as much again for shotguns.  There is also no doubt that this traffic of firearms across and around the world, is contributing to the amount of guns that are being made for legitimate purposes, and not ending up used for legitimate reasons.

There is little doubt that our own actions as developed nations are contributing to the despair being felt in developing countries.  Our responsibility to somehow contribute to the rehabilitation of child soldiers, must then also be acknowledged.  The United Nations and 153 of its member countries recently agreed that “the sale of small arms [has] fuelled conflicts in Africa and other parts of the world.”  Former Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu even referred to today’s gun trade as “the modern slave trade”.  While we must accept responsibility of our role in developing country’s conflicts, if we cannot curb this problem (one that feeds on greed, money, power and death) the cost to humanity – and there is the massive financial cost too – will prove to be an abomination.

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