Broken Lives Of Children

by Julien Randriamasivelo
Member of Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organisation
Permanent Secretariat

Child soldiers. Sexually abused children. Children victims of trafficking and prostitution. Children brought to slavery. Children treated as commodities. Child labour. Street children. Etc...The list is not exhaustive.

Horrified by the number of evils children are subjected to, signatories of Convention or Protocols on the Rights of Children, governments, organisations, civil society, individuals, all can only admit the failure to stop the spreading phenomenon of this very child misfortune more often accompanied with violence, exactions, murders, all sorts of atrocities. Surprisingly, the more we get involved in the process of globalisation the more numerous are the cases of evils committed on children. Worst still, the tacit complicity or open involvement in wrongdoings attributed to many State responsibles, some organisations like mafia or organised crimes all is a deplorable reality.

Then, the aftermath of September 11 attacks in New York and Washington have stirred up another phenomenon calling itself as the fight against terrorism which, for some vengeance-driven world responsibles, on the one hand, is a "reasonable option" to fight against the evil of terrorism, but observers see it as nothing but a kind of "terrorisation" ; and for those thrustly-minded people, a sincere struggle against the evil, on the other hand,.

Now, under the pretext of fighting against terrorism acts of violations of human rights are perpetrated worldwide and children and innocent peoples are the most targeted for death and sufferings. How can one imagine a superpower country using double standards policy in the international relations, lecturing human rights worldwide, using its force and military strength to impose its own notion of terrorism, playing with the confusion over the term of terrorism itself: calling liberation movements as terrorists, and glorifying other terrorists, be it State-terrorism or individual, like the one undertaken by Israel against the Palestinians! And as if this is not enough, bombardments and attacks on innocent people and children are plannified where children died or are diying due to sanctions, like in Iraq.

With the disclosure by the Los Angeles Times of the US nuclear weapons strategy, the US has reinforced the concept of terrorisation at the international level. Soft terror has been stirred up vis-à-vis countries targeted in the report as well as the international community as they become the object of banal "atomization" according to the whim and will of the US. Can we have an idea of the possible death toll including that of children if such options are to be conducted?

Terrorization is not an empty word. Like globalisation, it takes different forms in its manifestations. Children are softly "terrorized" by those who want to enroll them into army or guerillas as child soldiers, or by those who want to engage in sexual act with them, not to mention the manner they are treated as slaves.

Now an estimated 300.000 child soldiers, some as young as seven years old, are actively fighting in 41 countries, about 120.000 of them are in Africa. The fate of these children is simply disastrous. They have to endure the harsh military exercices in which they are trained and formed and which their frail physical conditions are set to bear.

Although the motivation to enroll children as soldiers is clear be it by governments, rebels armies or other militias and may differ according to objectives, the common denominator of the move is no secret for anybody : Children are cheap, expendable and easier to condition into fearless killing and unthinking obedience.

Some children found themselves forcibly abducted; other join for ideological reasons, or put before the inexistence of viable alternatives. Abduction and forcible enrolment is common way to give children the necessary experience in arms manipulation, being engaged to play a role in the name of various interests of their "bosses". We are even aware of cases when rebels abducted children from schools or refugees camps to be recruited as child soldiers or messengers in conflict areas. Altough such fact is not a widespread phenomenon, we can put it in a global state of education in that one out of five school-age child in developing contries doesn't attend school. In Sub-saharan Africa, Southern Asia and the Arab States, nearly 100 million children, more than 60% of them are girls, are not in school.That broken lives of children mean broken future of every Nations!

In country enduring conflict where terrorist fighters have left enormous casualties, like Afghanistan, atrocities happened when the youngsters, some barely teenagers tried to hide from enemy forces in schools, more than 100 Taliban child soldiers have been massacred by Northern Alliance troops. Observers said they have been summarily executed.

Other reality revealed that the goal for some youngster in other conflict-torn countries,was mere sheer survival. As rebels killed more and more adults soldiers, the local army turned increasingly to younger recruits, leaving the latter confronted with a stark choice: either die or kill rebels.

Even freed from the harsh situation of dehumanizing treatment they endured, child soldiers find their fate uncertain. Either they are leery of again taking up arms, or, when the war restarted, rebels or army try to recruit children again, the ex-child soldier who have "experience" in the field are likely threatenend to be re-enrolled.
The plight of these child combatants is especially poignant. They are kidnapped at an age as early as five or six, forced to be drugged, to terrorize, to kill. Many have no recollection of their families or where they are from. In Sierra Leone, for example, 80% of families have been dislocated at one time or another during the war.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated:" No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms" Child soldiers, slavery or, to to put it in a "sophisticated way", modern slavery are the two faces of a coin: politico-military on one side; politico-economic on the other. Children are militarily abused and exploited, forced to serve the interests of the powers who recruit them.

Modern slavery is flourishing at the present period of the new Millennium. Slavery exists in different forms: domestic slavery; forced labour; debt servitude; child labour; child prostitution, and so on...Although some of these forms usually involve adults, children are indirectly hit by the repercussions of conditions which affect their mothers or fathers. Many indigenous communities are subjected to forced labour reduced to servitude in forest exploitations: lower-paid job; inexistence of medical care to fight against the pandemics like malaria, tuberculosis or rabies.

The system of debt servitude, for example, is simple. If you lend money to those who you know well might not in a position to reimburse because of misery salary or higher rent, that debt is set to be increasing, these forcibly indebted people will work all their lifetime to reimburse it, leaving generations, that is their children, in the position of perpetual reimbursement. According to some reports, in Pakistan about 20 million people, including 7,5 million children, are concerned by this system. In India 5 million adults and 10 million children and in Afghanistan 500 000 workers! Debt servitude is practiced not only in Asia, Africa or Europe but also in Latin America ( Brazil, Peru, for example) and United States where black people are the more concerned.

If debt servitude of this kind confined within societies or groups of persons is called modern slavery, the debt of developing countries amounting more than 2000 billion of dollars must be rightly treated the same way. The debt servitude keeps hostage children!

Slavery is the market of misery par excellence. Slavery reduces child to the state of object, commodity not only in the form of labour but also in the practice of prostitution. Being victims of poverty children are used as object of trafficking in the tourism industry everywhere; they are "sold" in the bars, hotels, pornographic videos, sex-shops... Many travel agencies even organize charters for this practice, some often having links with organized crime worldwide. Children given over to prostitution are now chosen in their early age by fear of AIDS which represents a very grave threat to their life since the perpetrators of rape may be HIV virus-bearers, creating a factor of, or spreading, the pandemies by dissemination and transmission.

Child slavery in the image of sexual practice of pornography has now attained the Internet which increasingly became a means to amass phenomenal profits in developed countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, National Crime Squad found that the British members of the club had traded more than 120.000 "unimaginable" images with each other. Some featured children being tortured, bound in chains or sexually assaulted.

Many African children have been brought illegally into European countries in a modern-day form of slavery amid promises of a life of comfort and a good education but only to end up of being beaten and abused or object of sexual playthings of paedophiles.

Fighting against the modern slavery, sexual exploitation, prostitution, child labor, child trafficking is not an easy task. Political will, determination and firm commitment are needed from everybody. Tremendous efforts should be exerted to break the wall of silence on these issues; human and financial resources should be available to overcome the increasing sexual exploitation of children and action should be taken in the political, economic and social spheres. Children's rights to innocence and dignity should be restored. Governments have to harmonise national legislation with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ensure their enforcement. NGOs, civil society should reinforce their role in this direction.

The II International Conference held in Yokohama, Japan, last December, has been set to give new impetus to the fight against the sexual, commercial exploitation of Children. The task is not easy. The battle against poverty, traditional practices, family disruption, drugs, conflicts, consumerist pressure, financial interests worldwide, has been put before new stakes due to the developments of the information technology despite the existence of a number of international treaties. Ironically, parallel to these treaties, new "hosts" for pedophilic websites have appeared, the "newsgroup" in developed countries, for example, and so far, the United States, the only country with Somalia who did not ratify neither the Convention nor the Protocols on the Rights of Children, has the lead for the production of pedopornography on the Internet. More danger is ahead !

Governments and responsible leaders worldwide are called on:

-to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Children as well as its relevant Protocols and Charters;
-to enact laws for comprehensive national implementing legislation in conformity with the provisions of International Conventions and Protocols on Children;
-to set up permanent Observatory body in order to monitor and follow-up the implementation of these measures;
-to ensure social insertion and reinsertion, education and viable protection of children freed from dehumanizing treatment they have endured.
-to bring to trial those responsible of child abuses of all sorts.

The implementation of the provisions of the future International Criminal Court which has potential to prosecute crimes committed against children, will be a matter of great importance in the search fo resolving the children issues.