Thursday, March 31, 2011

Student Research Days: Brutal practice of child soldiering must stop

ESL students Froilan Bautista and Anna Zhang say child soldiering is becoming an increasingly global issue.
By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

Chances are you’ve heard stories about child soldiers. Pol Pot used them to police internment camps and carry out executions in Cambodia 40 years ago, and more recent reports tell us that children are fighting in countries like Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But do you know just how young some of these soldiers are?

Two Douglas ESL students, Anna Zhang and Froilan Bautista, conducted a survey of 30 random students to find out what age they thought child soldiers were being recruited at on average.

Out of the 30 students surveyed, 18 said 18 years old, four said 15, three said 13 and five said 11.

In their research, Anna and Froilan found that the average age was 15. “We also found that some militaries are recruiting children at age 10,” says Froilan, “and the youngest are age seven.”

Anna and Froilan chose to do their Student Research Days project on child soldiers because they felt it was an issue that deserved more attention. “This topic is not known to all of us, especially young people,” Froilan says. “They don’t know that this is a global issue now. They are recruiting child soldiers who will fight for rebel groups, army groups, and many children are dying because of this.”

Anna points out that child soldiers are fighting not only in Africa, but in Columbia, Sri Lanka, Burma and a host of other countries. “Many work as soldiers just for food,” she says. “They don’t have family or anyone to take care of them. Governments have no control over the situation; it’s so unfair.”

“There are also girl soldiers,” adds Froilan. “They are used as sex slaves but also for jobs like taking care of people in their group who get injured.”

The “advantage” of recruiting children as soldiers, the pair says, is that children – being emotionally immature – will do things that adults will not do, and are less fearful. “They are trained to kill or be killed,” Froilan says.

The research partners hope that increased awareness of the problem, and the growing number of programs and agencies set up to reeducate child soldiers, reunite them with their families and help them in other ways, will put a dent in the brutal practice.

“Children are not supposed to become soldiers,” Anna says. “They should not be involved in any kind of war.”