Seeking peace. Striving for justice. Together.
by Max Hill
On July 15, I had the pleasure of leading a discussion for our guests from First Presbyterian Church of Albuquerque. This discussion focused on the issue of the recruitment and use of children as soldiers around the world. The group’s initial thoughts on what a child soldier looked like were not unexpected. The group, for the most part, agreed that when they thought of a child being used as a soldier, they thought of a boy around fifteen or sixteen years old with a gun. This definition gave me a great jumping off point with the group, because it gave me the chance to explain that not all child soldiers are used in combat, the children are not all boys and many recruits are much younger than the ages they initially thought. In order to give the group a feel for many of the issues surrounding the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, I showed them a video titled “I don’t want to go back”. This video is part of a Red Cross module exploring humanitarian law. The video gives two first hand accounts of children who have joined armed groups for similar reasons and the terrors that they both faced as a part of that. After the video the group understood that there is no such thing as a child voluntary joining an armed force or group – what may look voluntary is really the result of some sort of force or coercion.
Next the discussion shifted from what child soldiers look like, to a conversation about how the children that have escaped or have been rescued cope with life and the types of assistance and care they may need. In order to give the group some background on this portion of the discussion, I showed them a clip from the documentary “Children of War”. This content of this clip was much heavier than the first video that the group was shown, but it was received well by the group. The students had very good questions and insights about how these children are treated and seen by society.
The next and final portion of the discussion focused on what the international community and the PC(USA) is doing to end the recruitment and use of children as soldiers. The group learned about the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which states that an individual must be at least 18 years of age in order to be recruited for armed service. They learned about the work of UNICEF and the Children, Not Soldiers campaign designed to raise awareness. Next, the group learned that former child soldiers, such as Grace Akallo, tell their stories and speak out to end this tragedy. And finally, they learned about two groups related to the PC(USA), RECONCILE and the Nonviolent Peaceforce. At the end of the day the group got to learn more about the Red Hands campaign and participated by creating red hands themselves.
Getting to lead this discussion was a wonderful experience for me because it gave me the opportunity to open the eyes of this group. The information that they learned and the things that they saw during this presentation will give them the ability to raise awareness in their own community. They will be able to spread the word that every child deserves to have a childhood of innocence and happiness. They will be a part of our voice that says that children are children, not soldiers.