(This article is part of an ongoing series showing adult obsession in waging “War Against Children” by Fr. Jerry Novotny, OMI.)
“Every child is a different kind of flower and all together make this world a beautiful garden.” (by unknown) One of the most precious things that we have in this world are our children. God has created each one individually as a unique human person, a one-of-a-kind who is very precious to Him. In the beginning, God made “male and female”, wishing them to share in His creative work by saying “increase and multiply”. The result of this participation with God is children, each of whom are precious and possess “special” talents and abilities that gives life to the world. Beginning at an early age and throughout its childhood, a child needs a safe atmosphere to develop as a human being. This is a time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence, and protected from abuse and exploitation. Children are the world’s future, and we need to take care of them like we would any precious resource.
Yet, one in every six children across the world is living in areas impacted by conflict. These precious resources are more at risk of becoming victims of child-soldiers now than at any time in the last 20 years. From Syria to South Sudan, Yemen to DRC, children are caught up in violence, which is not of their making. They are being killed, maimed, raped, and used as war-machines to kill others.
In these self-inflicted conflicts, tens of thousands of children are in high demand to armed groups. They are being recruited around the world to become child-soldiers. Some are abducted, threatened, coerced or manipulated to participate. Others are driven by poverty and compelled to generate income for their families. Still others associate themselves with personal survival or the protection of their families and communities. Regardless of whatever reason, these child-soldiers are victims. They all bear marks of serious damage to their physical, intellectual and emotional development.
What are child-soldiers? Child-soldiers are any children under the age of 18 who are recruited by a state or non-state armed groups. The term “child soldier” encompasses a wide range of roles in which children – boys and girls – are used in military conflict. The responsibilities of a child soldier can include armed combatant, spy, cook, porter, messenger and ‘wife’ (for sexual exploitation).
The United Nations has identified 14 countries where children are widely used as soldiers by military groups: Afghanistan, Colombia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
The following two examples give a glimpse of the recruiting process, training and indoctrination of children who become child-soldiers.
(Example one): Frederique was in school in Bambari, Central African Republic, when the militia attacked. Many people died in the hostilities, including his brother and mother. Devastated, Frederique joined an armed group, seeking both protection and revenge for the death of his loved ones. Frederique’s story is shocking but unfortunately not rare. Armed conflict is a tragic reality for millions of children.
(Example two): It is no secret that the Taliban in Afghanistan have increased the number of child-soldiers since the withdrawal of United States military forces. Since taking over the government, they have carried out reprisals, including executions; have raided the homes of journalists, activists, and human rights defenders; have restricted the rights of women and girls; and allow only boys to attend schools.
For indoctrination, Taliban commanders have long relied on madrasas, or Islamic religious schools, to train and provide children as soldiers. Boys as young as 6 are indoctrinated, and by age 13, often have learned to use firearms. Children between 13 and 17 are often used to fight.
Moreover, the Taliban use children to carry out suicide and other dangerous attacks, often recruiting them through deception, with promises of money or other incentives, and threats. One 15-year-old boy told United Nations investigators that a Taliban commander ordered him to detonate explosives against Afghan police, promising him that if he carried out the mission, he would go to paradise and receive “huge rewards.” When the boy resisted, the commander threatened to kill the boy and his parents.
It’s interesting to note, that suicide attacks in Afghanistan were rare before 2005, but now they have been rapidly adopted as a war tactic by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Since 2014, suicide attacks by Taliban forces have caused approximately 6,000 civilian casualties. Children are used to carry out these attacks since they are easier to manipulate and are less likely to arouse suspicion.
The conflict in Afghanistan has been one of the world’s deadliest for children. Estimates show that approximately 33,000 children have been killed or maimed over the past 20 years. The number of child-soldiers appears to be particularly high. During a military offensive in Kunduz in 2015, for example, Human Rights Watch spoke with several families whose children, just 14 and 15, were killed in combat only weeks after the Taliban recruited them.
The Taliban deny that they use children in “jihadic operations” and their code of conduct states that “boys without beards” are not allowed in military centers. Nevertheless, the U.N. has verified hundreds of individual cases in which the Taliban have recruited and used children in recent years, including a sharp spike in 2020, and warned that the true figures are likely much higher.
Catholic Social Teaching on Child Soldiers
(A) Life and Dignity of the Human Person
“The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia. The value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty. The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and resolve them by peaceful means. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.” Source: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching.cfmUnited States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Washington, D.C.
All writings and teachings of the Catholic Church clearly state that each person is created in the image of God. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every society to ensure that human life is protected from its very beginning until its end. Looking at the situation of child-soldiers, the protection and dignity of human life is completely abandoned and their rights to life taken away from them. The Catholic Church believes that every person is a precious gift of God and condemns the recruiting of children to be used as war-machines.
The Bible teaches us that “Children Are a Gift from God”.
God created the family, and children are a gift from Him. In fact, the Bible says that offspring are a reward from Him! Because of this, God cares about how children are raised and nurtured.
In the light of these 30+ bible-verses showing God’s Love for his children, I wonder how an adult would go about explaining Mark 10:13-16 to the many child-soldiers being recruited?
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16, NIV)
Child-soldiers at an early age are being recruited and forced to suffer a broad range of human rights violations and abuses, including their right to life, their right not to be subjected to sexual violence or other forms of torture, their right to education and their right to freedom of thought and religion. This isn’t just a grave violation of children’s fundamental human rights – it represents an ugly tragedy to end the childhood of a large number of innocent children. These precious children deserve so much better from the adult world.