I have a confession to make. Promise not to judge me, will you?
When I first heard about the ‘Day of the African Child’, I had no idea what it was. I know, I know, being a young woman from Kenya this is incredulous, isn’t it? Thank heavens for Google! Turns out it’s a day specifically dedicated to celebrating the African Child. The topic of discussion this year is children’s rights violated by crisis and conflict and how to better protect innocent young lives.
I am passionate about my continent. My passion can be compared to what feminists feel about feminism, so you know it’s pretty strong. There is wealth here, raw talent and boundless resources. As Mallence will tell you, Africa is by far the wealthiest continent in the world and I couldn’t agree more. Besides precious stones, a breathtaking landscape, exotic plants, vast agricultural land, sandy beaches, beautiful culture and fascinating wildlife, children are Africa’s most precious possession. This is where children are supposed to build their future. So where do we go wrong?
Is it greed? Selfishness? Hunger for power? Unwanted influence from the West? Who or what you want to blame for wars and conflict in Africa, one thing remains – when a crisis hits, children become the helpless, unfortunate victims forced to bear the brunt of a conflict that they took no part in starting. Their dreams are shattered, their futures destroyed and their innocence robbed.
During conflict, children’s rights to be protected from violence, abuse and neglect, and their right to live in dignity, are massively infringed upon and violated. The most gut-wrenching abuse of children’s rights during conflict, according to me, is the recruitment of child soldiers. Nobody really knows how many child soldiers there are in the world. There is no child soldier registry and no notification sent when armed groups are kidnapping children or just succeeded in recruiting a new child soldier in the streets. However, we do know that the number of children exploited as child soldiers are increasing with the number of conflicts. Militias, resistance forces, national armies and terrorist organizations recruit child soldiers with the intention of using them as combatants, human shields, sex slaves, cooks and spies.
Child soldier. How do those two words even go together?
I don’t get why people do it. Why people decide to use a child to fight their war. Why people decide to punish a child for a bloody war. What, did you run out of adults? How did a crayon transform into a bullet? How do you consciously decide to take part in scarring a child for life? I honestly can’t fathom it. I shouldn’t be able to. I shouldn’t be trying to understand why adults recruit child soldiers because child soldiers, that term, that concept, that practice, should not exist.
Numerous children worldwide are negatively affected by conflict – not that armed conflict ever affected any child positively. Schools are destroyed and playgrounds invaded by militias. Children are exploited, exposed to danger, desensitized to violence, and experience heart-wrenching losses with some of them forced to witness the brutal deaths of loved ones. With rehabilitation facilities scarce in the region, these traumatized children are psychologically scarred for life. Basic needs, such as food, water, shelter and clothing are withheld from these children and they are compelled to fight for survival.
African leaders should be ready and willing to actively participate in mitigating the negative effects of conflicts on children by setting up rehabilitation and rescue centers and embracing dialogue with opposing forces.
Dear everyone who is in a position of leadership and power, African and otherwise: before you start a war, think about all the lives you will personally be responsible for destroying. How would you feel if your children and their children experienced the agony you are willing to inflict on others?
Violence is never the solution.
Carrie Belle is a former Voices of Youth blogger from Kenya who says “I’m like a bonfire and I dare the world to put me out.” Read more of her posts.
Read more about Voices of Youth.