Everyone loves their babies and wants the best for them: toys, books, travels, and a lot of kisses. Unfortunately, many kids around the world suffer from famine, poverty and the terrifying consequences of wars. Many children out there don’t have any loving environment and lose their innocent childhood due to physical traumas, emotional scars, and lack of social support.
Let’s talk about a topic that might sound too far from us but that’s a reality for many children: child soldiers.
The term 'child soldiers' refers to the little kids that were taken away from their families, raped, and tortured... with the only purpose to become killing machines. Child soldiers can be used as fighters, human shields or simply in propaganda campaigns. Countries, such as Myanmar, Colombia, Congo, Sudan, Syria, and Iraq, are some of the places that have child soldiers.
The problem is that children who manage to escape can’t fully recover from the horrors of the war.
Here are 15 stories of child soldiers that can touch our hearts and make us think about the inequality that still rules our world. While some kids have toys to play with, other have guns and machetes.
Note that some of the victims hid their identities with aliases for safety reasons.
15 Do You Like Football? The Story Of Michel Chikwanine
Imagine yourself playing soccer! Green fields, laughter, and some adrenaline.
Now open your eyes. You can see some dirty and cruel men shouting, pushing and insulting you. You are taken away. You are lonely, disorientated, cold, and you miss your family. You are looking at your shoes trying to hide your tears. Well, boys do cry!
That’s not only a nightmare: that’s the personal story of Michel Chikwanine. He was only five when he was abducted and made into a child soldier in Congo. He was even forced to kill his best friend as an initiation process into the army.
After a lot of pain, he managed to escape. In 2004, he made it to Canada where he found a shelter. To share the scary truth behind that social problem – child soldiers – he even wrote a graphic novel for kids. That’s right – awareness is needed!
14 A Long Way Gone: The Story Of Ishmeal Beah
To expose the horrors that all child soldiers go through, another victim reveals his personal story. “A Long Way Gone” is the inspiring book written by Ishmael Beah. He not only describes how he was forced to become a child soldier in Sierra Leone (at the age of 13), but he also explores another terrifying aspect – the inner peace of all those kids.
We often associate kids with toys and cakes, but for all the child soldiers there’s pain, death, blood, and exhaustion. Ishmael Beah said that coping with the inner beast the war has implanted in him was the worst thing ever.
That shows that reintegration and social support are crucial because the torture for all those kids doesn’t end after they’ve escaped.
13 Pain, Pain, And More Pain: The Story Of Norman Okello
Emotional and psychical pain become reality for many child soldiers. Norman Okello recalls that when he was taken by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, led by Kony, he was beaten up in front of his father. What’s more, Norman says, usually, kids were made to kill their own parents. Then, they were exposed to exhaustion, constant marching, and if one was about to say a word or stop, they were sentenced to death.
After all that ‘training’, kids were forced to kill. Norman says, “When you kill for the first time, automatically, you change. Out of being innocent, you’ve become guilty. You feel like you’re becoming part of them, part of the rebels.”
That shows that the psychological damage that child soldiers suffer is more than unbearable and sometimes that can’t compare to the physical challenges they’ve gone through.
12 Refugees Or Soldiers? The Story Of Tarik
Unlike Norman, Tarik wasn’t abducted: he joined the Syrian army. Before we start blaming him, we should realize that he is also a victim, just like many of his friends. As Tarik says, “I used to be a very loving person, but the war changed my feelings. I thought that only with fighting I could get back what I lost.” Tarik was only 15 when he faced the terrors of the war.
Losing your own home, family, and seeing babies, women and older people die - while your fathers and brothers fight to survive - is something that can change you for life.
That raises more questions regarding the refugee problem. The Syrian Civil War has left more than 6 million children in need of humanitarian help and social support.
11 Talk To Me: The Story Of Duop
South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. However, the destruction there brings associations of the Apocalypse. Children there don’t celebrate things like the International Children’s Day: children there become child soldiers.
Duop is one of the thousands of kids that were taken away from their families and forced to kill. Note that some kids are as young as 10. We can’t say exactly how much pain Duop went through, but one thing is for sure: he lost his ability to talk, and even social workers are struggling to help him come out of his shell. On top of that, he uses small rocks as earplugs to keep his head clear.
After his escape, Duop saw his mum but couldn’t say a word. Just a sad hug!
10 Victim Or Not? The Story Of Dominic Ongwen
The consequences for all child soldiers are terrible: physical disabilities, mental illnesses, emotional scars and… legal issues.
Dominic Ongwen, a commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, is the first child soldier to face trial at the International Criminal Court. Dominic was abducted when he was 10, and 30 years later from a victim he became a perpetrator. Most of his charges are due to attacks of refugee camps, mainly in Congo.
Crime shouldn’t be justified, but how can we say who's right and who’s wrong in this case? On top of that, some people see the International Criminal Court as imperialist.
Isn’t childhood trauma the cause of all crime cases? Can we shed some light on the dark side of humanity?
9 Want To Be A Policeman? The Story Of Maisha
Many countries and organizations take kids for child soldiers. I know: even the thought of that can make us sick. Unfortunately, this problem is devouring a huge part of the world, and child soldiers keep suffering in silence.
Maisha joined the Mayi-Mayi militia in Congo. The situation there is in a way worse: they recruit kids via manipulation. Let’s not forget that children don’t have the ability to make the right decisions and are influenced easily by role models. The commanders at the Mayi-Mayi army tell kids that there’s some magic that turns bullets directed at them to water, and that people who work for them become indestructible.
Won’t you join a group that makes you feel like a superhero?
8 To The West: The Story Of Wayne Sharrocks
If we think that the Western world is ‘immune’, we should think twice: the West also has child soldiers.
There are many UK and US bases around the world, and actually, people who sign for them are young boys and girls.
The story of Wayne Sharrocks shows us the tragic reality behind that. He was only 17 when he learned to obey the army completely. And that’s the point when his life turned. Killing other people, experiencing extreme aggression, and feeling emotional pain.
In fact, once (while hitchhiking) I met a guy who was serving in Afghanistan. Well, he said the adrenaline from fighting was incredible... Talking about killing other people with no remorse was something disturbing. Oh, let me mention that he was a father…
7 Walk With Us: The Story Of Nouri
One of the terrifying groups, responsible for millions of deaths, is ISIS. Not surprisingly, they also abduct kids for soldiers.
The story of Nouri from Iraq is sad. When he refused to join the army, soldiers broke his leg in three places. Although that is horrific, this was his lucky ticket, so to say. As he couldn’t walk properly after that, he was released. Unfortunately, he can’t enjoy his freedom: now, he suffers from panic attacks and doesn’t leave his home. His little brother Saman (5) is also deeply traumatized. With missing parents, these kids might never recover.
Actually, Iraq is known for their horrific practice of letting child soldiers head to the front… clearing mine fields. Thousands of child soldiers died and many more were injured, not being able to play like kids are supposed to do.
6 Daddy’s Princess: The Story Of Grace Archara
Having a baby is a miracle. Baby girls add more magic to people’s lives. We’ve heard phrases, such as ‘daddy’s girl’ or ‘daddy’s princess’. There’s a special bond between daughters and fathers, and fathers would do anything for their babies.
However, Grace Archara’s story is different. She didn’t have pink castles, she didn’t have unicorns, and she didn’t have her nails done for her tea parties.
She was abducted, raped, and trained to kill instead. She was even given to an older man as a wife.
Grace, just like many other girls, was forced to become a part of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. She was forced to kill a person at the age of 16. Sweet sixteen, eh?
After many years of struggle, emotional pain, and dramatic changes, she managed to escape. We can’t represent the whole horror of her story. But we can raise some questions. What happens to all child soldiers that manage to escape when they’ve been chased by their own government, by their torturers, and by other countries?
5 Ready To Die? The Story Of Nasir
Kids are supposed to play. But with toys and friends, not bombs. In this world, where terrorist attacks happen almost every day, the topic of suicide bombers is more than relevant.
Nasir was only 12 when he was taken by ISIS and trained to be a suicide bomber. Nasir remembers that terrorists used to brainwash them saying that America was against them. They also used to tell kids that their own families were part of the American conspiracy... and that’s why they deserved to die. Nasir admits that he used to cry quietly. Just like all the other kids. In fact, he says, there was a boy who was only five years old.
It's a sad truth that people use and abuse toddlers...
4 Look At My Diary: The Story Of Zlata Filipovic
Let’s move to the beautiful Balkans that, unfortunately, also suffered in the 90s. Sarajevo was among the cities that suffered the most leaving more than 380,000 people without food, water or heating for more than 46 months.
Meanwhile, young Zlata was hiding with her family. Like any other kid, she wanted to have some fun, so she decided to keep a diary. Now, this diary represents what civil wars, occupation, and foreign invasion can cause to a country and its children. Zlata says that she’s still concerned about the future of her country because some scars never heal.
Not surprisingly, her diary is compared to the one of Anne Frank, full of horror, fear and lost childhood.
3 What’s Next? The Story Of Kon Kelei
Many child soldiers who survived the horrors of the war and managed to reintegrate in our society are worried about their future, the perspective in front of their countries, and the world in general. We should agree because there’s something wrong with a world that allows kidnapping, torture, and rape, and that takes kids away from their families.
Kon Kelei, a former child soldier from Sudan, now a resident of the Netherlands, reveals the pain of the war and fights for all those kids out there who didn’t have his luck to escape from their prison.
Maybe more people should start supporting causes that might benefit the future of our planet: the next generation. We should love humanity the way we love our babies.
2 Lost Innocence: The Story Of Abraham Achiek
Therefore, we should invest in recovery and prevention programs. The mental health of our kids is as crucial as their physical safety. Many child soldiers need some help. As Abrah Achiek, a former child soldier from South Sudan, said, it took him more than 20 years to recover from the pain that the war caused.
He was only 12 when he was taken and forced to serve the army. After seven long years, he managed to escape. He still can’t forget all the things he witnessed, things that children shouldn’t see or even imagine.
Although they always try to act as adults, we should respect their little souls and try to make this world a better place for them and their dreams.
1 Listen To My Music: The Story Of Emmanuel Jal
How can we make the world a better place? Maybe by playing some music. Just like sport events, music unites people. There’s no need of words, no need for languages, but just some moving vibe that takes us to a journey through revelation and joy.
The rapper Emmanuel Jal can tell us more about it. He was around eight when he was kidnapped by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Exposed to torture, manipulation, and isolation, he was only ten when he was forced to kill. At the age of 12, Emmanuel managed to escape through the severe desert.
Now, Emmanuel has almost recovered from the horror of the war. He is a musician who proves that we should look at the bright side of life.
Because child soldiers do deserve a better future.
Sources: Child-Soldiers.org, SOS-USA.org, Telegraph.co.uk, UNICEF.org