On the occasion of the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, which was held on February 12, we recall the importance of exercising the right to education as a factor of protection against conflicts and how the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) contributes to it.
There is often a close relationship between forced displacement and forced recruitment of minors. Displaced children are an easy target to be recruited because they often lack protection and education, which makes them more easily manipulated. Girls and boys, some of them with less than six years old who are forced to fight and kill, or are involved in espionage activities. They are forced to lend, support armed groups as informants or messengers or participate in illicit activities such as drug production.
Sometimes girls are also sexually harrased. Many die, are seriously injured or end up prisoners. They are victims of constant abuse that transforms them into violent people, which makes their reintegration into society an enormous challenge.
In the world, more than 230 million children live in areas affected by armed conflicts. The Secretary General of the United Nations, in his 2016 report on childhood, notes the existence of child soldiers in 20 countries, most of the African continent and the Asian region of the Middle East, where there is a higher number of children. armed conflicts. The report highlights the increase in the number of cases of recruitment and use of minors in countries such as Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic (whose number in 2016 increased by more than two compared to 2015), as well as the high number of cases in South Sudan, where one of the highest numbers of children recruited for military purposes is recorded (1,100).
A “child or girl soldier” is defined as any person under the age of 18 who is part of any type of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, such as, but not limited to, chefs, porters, messengers, and anyone who accompanies these groups who are not members of the family. Includes girls and boys recruited to be sexually exploited and / or contract marriage. The definition, therefore, not only refers to a boy or girl who carries, or has carried, weapons (based on the “Cape Town Principles”, 1997).
The use of child soldiers is without doubt the most extreme form of child exploitation. These children go through terrible experiences that leave them desensitized and traumatized; Many of them can not forget the abuses they suffered. In the case of child soldiers, frequent physical injuries are accompanied by sexual abuse and forced marriages, which cause very serious traumas and, when they survive, rejection by their community. The Special Representative of the General Secretariat of the UN, in its annual report of 2017, showed that approximately 40% of children affected by recruitment and use for military purposes are girls.
In situations of displacement, education constitutes an indispensable means of protection and future projection for these children.
The Jesuit Refugee Service works by accompanying, serving and defending the rights of refugee and forcibly displaced children. It promotes schooling programs that protect these minors from the violence of the environment and allow them to have everything they need to be able to learn, restoring illusion and lost childhood. JRS offers collaboration with three specific initiatives:
Central African Republic
Central African Republic is currently plunged into a humanitarian, political and economic crisis since 2012. This situation has led to massive displacements both outside and inside the country: today there are 418,638 people. JRS works in the south and center of the country, specifically in Bangui and Bambari, assisting children to recover a normal life, so that they return to where they should be: the school. Thus, awareness-raising, psychosocial support and general training sessions are held, including actions for peace and reconciliation. In the case of girls, special attention is offered to facilitate their reintegration at the psychosocial and formative levels.
After the independence of South Sudan in 2011, more than 130,000 refugees arrived in Maban fleeing the Blue Nile in Sudan. Little did they imagine that in December 2013 the youngest country in the world was disintegrating into a fratricidal civil war. At that time, the refugees who had arrived in Maban barely two years before, found themselves caught between two wars. While the government of Kartum bombed their lands in the Blue Nile, the country that welcomed them lived episodes of unprecedented ethnic hatred. The children of this area live with the continuous threat of being recruited as minor soldiers. That is why JRS works in the Arrupe Learning Center, a residential school of Teacher Training so that they can improve their performance as educators and help prevent the use of minors in armed conflict, offering them on the contrary a higher quality in education and a space of protection in the schools of the refugee camp.