My submission this month was inspired by a television show. I watched the season premiere of "24" a few days ago. I was struck by the use of children as soldiers for the rebels in this show. In fact, the rebels were actually kidnapping children from homes, soccer fields and schools.
The fantasy of television is born from the reality of our world.
It turns out that child soldiers are fighting in at least 17 countries including Angola, Burma, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Lebanon, Liberia, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.
Boys and girls alike are forced into combat, exploited for their labor, and subjected to unspeakable violence. A UN treaty prohibits the participation of children under the age of 18 in hostilities. But too often, it is not enforced.
Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make obedient soldiers. Many are abducted or recruited by force, and often compelled to follow orders under threat of death. Others join armed groups out of desperation. As society breaks down during conflict, leaving children no access to school, driving them from their homes, or separating them from family members, many children perceive armed groups as their best chance for survival. Others seek escape from poverty or join military forces to avenge family members who have been killed.
I rarely compliment President Bush ... but, I'm proud to know that he signed a new law last month that calls for the arrest and prosecution of leaders of military forces and armed groups who have recruited child soldiers.
I encourage all villagers to visit the Red Hand Day website. The folks on that website want us to urge the United Nations to take stronger action to end the use of child soldiers.
The aim of the Red Hand Day campaign is to gather one million “red hands” — the symbol of the global campaign against the use of child soldiers — and present them to UN officials in New York on February 12, 2009, the anniversary of the day the treaty banning the use of child soldiers took effect.
Participating in the campaign is easy:
- Use red paint to make a handprint on a sheet of paper, and add a personal message about your desire to end the use of child soldiers; organize others at your school or in your community to do the same;
- Upload photos or videos of your event to www.redhandday.org;
- Send your red hands by February 2009 to Human Rights Watch, 350 5th Ave, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10118
Will you join this effort? What are your thoughts about using children as soldiers?