Scourge of child soldiers in Africa
Friday, 23 March 2012 00:00
RECENTLY, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found a Congolese militia leader, Thomas Lubanga, guilty of conscripting children into his army to wage war and serve as personal body guards.
The long-awaited ICC verdict came as a deserving relief for Africans, especially the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have been tormented and traumatized by the unholy and unwholesome activities of men like Lubanga, who the ICC convicted for “building an army of children”.
Using children as soldiers has become endemic in Africa. This phenomenon was manifest in the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ugandan warlord and fugitive, Joseph Kony, a former choirboy, is also culpable in this crime. Children are abducted and conscripted into his Lords Resistant Army. His militia is notorious in its brutality, pillage, rape and mutilation of people in Uganda and its neighbours in the border settlements. In this crime against humanity girls are kidnapped and kept as sex slaves, while boys are turned into blood suckers. It is estimated that about 66,000 children became soldiers through Kony’s actions.
The ICC’s verdict - though the first since its establishment ten years ago - sends a strong signal that such acts of criminality will no longer go unpunished.
The ICC’s judgment emphasises that irrespective of the location or duration it takes for justice to take its full course, perpetrators of war crimes would no longer get away with their anti-people, disruptive and destructive tendencies. The long arm of the law will definitely catch up with perpetrators and their collaborators and bring them to justice.
It is a well-known fact that several other war lords who have engaged in the recruitment of child soldiers are still at large. The onus is on the ICC to spread out its dragnet to bring other suspects to book.
African leaders need to cooperate and pool their resources in order to fight this menace. Relevant institutions of the African Union must be pressed to work to end this criminality.
The recruitment of child soldiers as an act of war must end. We believe that the combined strength of the ICC and Africans themselves should put a stop to this unconscionable act.
The disturbing and disgraceful incidents of child soldiers in Africa can be minimised with more investment in education to boost literacy and reduce the rates of ignorance and biting poverty among the African peoples. African leaders certainly have a collective responsibility to continually address political and socio-economic factors that spark civil wars and instability in their countries. Ultimately, the solution lies in implementing holistic preventive measures and insisting on accountability.
Governments, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other stakeholders in the affected societies and other parts of Africa where children have suffered from being recruited as child soldiers, now have the crucial responsibility of establishing tools to fully rehabilitate victims into the communities. Many of those recruited as children would have grown into teenagers. They will require proper debriefing and opportunities to learn socio-economic skills as part of the process of reconciliation and living normal lives.
Education will be key to the process of rehabilitation.
These measures hold the promise of enabling them to chart a more progressive future for themselves, live a much better and fulfilling life for the overall good and advancement of their respective societies.
Now that the criminals and the warlords have been put on notice by the ICC judgment that the era of impunity has ended, we expect the phenomenon of child-soldiering to begin to end in Africa.