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Child Soldiering In Uganda And Sierra Leone

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3084 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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A child soldier is an individual categorized as a youth that is recruited by government military and rebel forces to fight, kill, loot, destroy property, lay mines, act as messengers and sometimes used as a sexual slave (Kimmel and Roby, 2007). Children lose their sense of identity, otherwise called “lost children”, and are found wielding small weapons and taking the lives of others (Druba, 2002). Child Soldiering is evident in European, African, Asian and South American countries, although the focus of this essay will be on child soldiers in Uganda and Sierra Leone, where the issue has been prevalent for many years. These countries have been in a state of war for a prolonged period of time. This causes Uganda and Sierra Leone to be affected in numerous ways such as heavy drains on resources like land, labour and capital. In a war-torn country, these problems are likely to allow for a lowered respect of people’s human worth in respect to military service, making children “an easy prey” (Hoiskar, 2001).

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According to The United Nations Children’s Fund (commonly known as UNICEF), there is an estimated 300, 000 youth that are involved in the practice of child soldiering today. Due to the harsh conditions that these children are faced with and the effects that they have on these children, a gruelling reality is unfolded. Child soldiering has been coined “one of the worst forms of child abuse and labour” (Kimmel and Roby, 2007). Many would believe that children are forcibly recruited into rebel forces. They would be correct, although many also join voluntarily. Some reasons for voluntary entry of youth into military roles are for fear of their lives, to protect their families, and for opportunities like access to food and clothing for those who are impoverished. Sadly many of these children that join out of their own free will, never see their families again and are typically estranged from their family members purposely by rebel forces in order to gain control and authority over the youths. It benefits the rebel groups if the children gain a sense of inclusion and belonging within the military setting to ensure they will not seek better opportunities outside of their services and also try to re-establish ties with their families. Doing such things would likely stop these children from re-entering the forces voluntarily (Hoiskar, 2001).

To consider a circumstance in which children were forcibly recruited into the military in Uganda is the Lord’s Resistance Army. War has devastated Northern Uganda since 1986 (Sverker 2006). There is a popular rebel group called the LRA or Lord’s Resistance Army. They overthrew the Ugandan government and were known for abducting children. The forcible recruitment of child soldiers is common not only to the LRA but other rebel groups in the third world because child labour is widely known to be cheap and therefore poses many benefits. Many of the youth abducted by this group were taken during night raids on rural homes, counting anywhere from 60, 000 – 80, 000 children. These abductions were known to last from one day to ten years, averaging eight months approximately. The children were given only a few months of training and not long after this were they given guns (Annan and Blattman, 2010).

The Lord’s Resistance Army also affected Sierra Leone. Since the beginning of the civil war in 1991, one million children have been displaced and some of these children on more than one occasion. Fifteen to twenty thousand have become members of this armed group, most of them being under the age of ten years old. Sierra Leone is greatly concerned with the reintegration of these children abducted by the LRA (MacMullin and Loughry, 2004).

Although child soldiering is not a recent phenomenon it has substantially increased since the end of the Cold War. Not only are numbers increasing but there is also great difficulty in implementing international legal standards due to reasons such as failed states, internal conflicts, organized crime, minorities and vulnerable groups and mobile or displaced populations. When looking at modern societies that underwent transformations with the establishment of the minimum age for service in national armed forces, populations began to be controlled by mandatory public schooling and general conscription, examples being the scout movement and physical education. In attempts to better Uganda and Sierra Leone’s standing on the issue of child soldiering, one of the main problems seems to be declining educational background and poor reintegration of the child soldiers (Vautravers, 2008).

Problems such as educational decline and poor reintegration of these war-torn children into these African societies have a devastation impact on the economy. With little attention to integration programs in the third world and great difficulty with implementing international policies on child labour such as military service, earnings and occupational opportunities for these children drop. These factors affect labour market success greatly (Annan and Blattman, 2010). Child soldiering in the third world is a topic of importance to me. In high school I took part in a fundraising charity for which I and many other students raised enough money to restore seven child soldiers in Africa. This event opened my eyes to the issue of child soldiering, particularly in Uganda and Sierra Leone, where statistics show it is most prevalent. In this essay I will be arguing that Uganda and Sierra Leone’s tendency to replace adult soldiers with youths is due to as well as contributing to their destitute economy.

Theoretical Backing:

Taking a look at Modernization theory, child soldiering is deemed “backward” or immoral in comparison to Westernized ideals. The history of child labour in Western societies is related to the history of how children were partners in a family economy. For example, in the eighteenth century, industrialization led to the employment of very small children. Transitioning into the nineteenth century, children played an important role in key industries like coal mining and textiles. The use of children as labourers was normal in these time periods for it was a necessity for the family income. Every member of a family was needed to contribute to the family’s wealth in order to live comfortable and in many circumstances just scrape by. As the end of the nineteenth century was nearing, the essential role of children’s labour began to decline (Schrumpf, 2008). The shift of social roles and responsibilities brought about by war is greatly linked to the breakdown of societal structures and long-standing morals. Children’s involvement in war defies the established and generally accepted norms and values in regard to those responsibilities of children and adults (Honwana, 2006).

When it comes to combating the prevalence of child soldiers in third world countries, it is important to consider the definitions of both a soldier and a child. Any common dictionary will define a soldier as a person who serves in an army or is engaged in any military service for a particular cause. A child on the other hand is an individual between birth and full growth, a son or a daughter with words such as foolish, petty and immature being tacked to it to portray the Westernized concept of behaviour akin to children (Collins, 2008). Therefore placing children in a position of authority over adults during war is contradictory of Westernized conceptualizations of what children are typically supposed to represent in a society.

Likewise, the prevalence of child soldiers in Uganda and Sierra Leone develops a sense of patriarchy (Murphy, 2003). Modernization theory suggests that the third world should adopt the first world’s strategies for economic and societal success. This can be seen as patriarchy. In other words, this demonstrates a father-child type of relationship between the first and third world in which the first world attempts to better the third world through coercion and assimilation while not attempting to necessarily cater to cultural differences and perspectives. This is exactly what the military did to child soldiers when not considering the deleterious effects on the children which caused their failure to be reintegrated into society in turn causing economic hardship for both nations.

As previously stated, Modernization theory is based solely on Eurocentric ideas of progress. This theory’s goal was to create economically advanced societies with populations living according to appropriate moral codes. Firstly, child soldering can be seen as an act against Western morality. Secondly, economic modernity is seen a positive achievement. Modernization theory attempted to create a strong image of the third world to developed regions of the world and attract positive foreign investment which in turn would contribute to the poverty-stricken economies. The notion of Uganda and Sierra Leone as being incapable war-torn societies comprised of lost children unable to be reintegrated may not be as desirable for foreign investors.

Research and Analysis:

Child soldiering is directly related to a country’s current economical stance. The effect of war on Uganda and Sierra Leone is devastating, as the nation’s economy declines as capital and land are destroyed and people displaced. A high level of economic development is an important factor in establishing domestic peace. To prove this, of the ten states involved in armed conflicts from 1994-1998, no use of child combatants was evident. These places being: Cameroon, Comoros, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mali, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. One of the dominant shared characteristic of these ten places is that all of them had a medium rate of economic development (Hoiskar, 2001).

Child soldiering has a very large impact on the economy as well as education.

“Injuries to human capitol could hinder a nation’s productivity and growth for decades” (Annan and Blattman, 2010). Youth’s earnings noticeably drop by a third, their skilled employment halves, and schooling drops by a year. These cause consequences for lifetime labour market performance. A survey was conducted in Northern Uganda where an unpopular rebel group has forcibly recruited youth – tens of thousands – for twenty years. This abduction is what creates the impact on education and earnings. It is the educational deficit that largely impedes labour market success in Uganda. A widely known example is the Lord’s Resistance Army which was known for abducting children because child labour is widely known to be cheap and therefore benefitting of the present, already poor economy. Many of the youths were taken during night raids on rural homes, counting anywhere from 60, 000 to 80, 000 children. Abductions ranged from one day to ten years, averaging eight months approximately. Only a few months after training, the children received guns. Now, no more than one thousand youth are thought to remain with the LRA at this time, the remainder being those that had perished during combat or from unsatisfactory living conditions (Annan and Blattman, 2010).

This causes the interruption of education. These youth often complain of difficulty when re-entering into the school system, which creates a wide gap in education limiting their options in the labour market. Labour market performance suffers in the quality of work of child soldiers, not the quantity. This abduction appears to interrupt the ability to accumulate skills and capital and thus “stalls productive employment” (Annan and Blattman, 2010). Additionally, abductees are twice as likely to be illiterate than non-abductees (Annan and Blattman, 2010).

Child soldiers are a known threat to national security and the stability of post-war political order, paying close attention to the lack of educated populations and increasing aggression among the nation’s members. This aggression is known as the “gun mentality” which is an adopted attitude from the military. War becomes a source of “personal enrichment and empowerment”. Keep in mind that many of these children are born into war and accept that war is a normal way of life. These children become motivated by patriotism and ethnic power domination which is much like brainwashing. It is unfortunate that not much commitment and sustained effort is put into reintegration of these suffering children. In Uganda and Sierra Leone, child soldiers are treated as a lost generation (Francis, 2007). Despite many opinions about child soldiers being useless, there is evidence in former-war torn and post-conflict societies that suggests ex-child soldiers can in fact be reintegrated into normal society. The challenges of protecting these children are important to address. Although it is difficult for international laws to be instilled in the third world due to contrasting ideals and varying definitions of what child soldiers and child labour are, what is known as “paper protection” is now helping to make international laws protecting children in conflict zones enforceable since 2006. It is important to remember that this is only an attempt and not a successful endeavour (Francis, 2007).


“Tasks performed by child soldiers are the ‘new face’ of the traditional child labour practices across Africa”, armed conflict being just an extension of these traditional practices (Francis, 2007). Although Child Soldiering is commonly addressed as an issue harmful to the children partaking in the military actions alone, this essay thoroughly demonstrated that it can also effect a country’s entire economy international investment interests. The direct and indirect effects of child soldiering on Uganda and Sierra Leone’s economy is evident and explored through a Modernist perspective using Rostow’s Modernization theory as critical analytical support. Child soldiering makes difficult the reintegration of children into society and also disadvantages children in respect to their education. Education in the army for these children is not necessary. Not only is education discouraged but these children are taken from their families and homes at a pivotal point in their adolescent school years.

Children leaving the military forces in Africa face higher risk for psychological problems and alienation. They are rarely reintroduced with their family members, often because they are forced to kill them prior to entering the army. This generation of child soldiers is what the countries depend on for economic growth. If these children are already struggling with reintegration as well as obtaining their education, the country’s economical prospects seem bleak. It is for these reasons that this paper has addressed both how and why child soldiering in Uganda and Sierra Leone has lead to these nations’ economical and political downfalls.

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