"The army was a nightmare. We suffered greatly from the cruel treatment we received. We were constantly beaten, mostly for no reason at all, just to keep us in a state of terror. I still have a scar on my lip and sharp pains in my stomach from being brutally kicked by the older soldiers. The food was scarce, and they made us walk with heavy loads, much too heavy for our small and malnourished bodies. They forced me to learn how to fight the enemy, in a war that I didn't understand why was being fought."
- Emilio, recruited by the Guatemalan army at age 1 Testimony given at a Congressional briefing on child soldiers, sponsored by Human Rights Watch, Washington DC, December 3, 1997.
The war in Guatemala has been particularly cruel to young indigenous people. Children are being increasingly swept up in the conflicts surrounding them, with devastating results. And it is not just Guatemala. It is all over the world.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
There are lots of things going on that you can help out with. It's up to YOU to decide which you think is the most effective.
1) SUPPORT THE BAN on child soldiers. Lots of people at many important organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are trying to get a ban on the use of children as soldiers. They need YOU to send letters to support them!
Where does YOUR country stand?!? Click here to find out.
If you are in the US, you can write a letter to the President, Secretary of Defense, the First Lady or the Secretary of State. You can even use e-mail so you don't need a stamp. Ask them to support a worldwide ban on the use of children as soldiers. Thank them for reading your letter and ask exactly what they will do to protect children from forced participation in armed conflict internationally.
If you are outside the US, you can write to your own government officials.
Human Rights Watch has a sample letter to help you in writing you letter, and some important information you can use is at the right.
Please send letters until February 28, 1999. After that, check with Amnesty International to see if you should still write.
2) RAISE AWARENESS in the media: Write a letter to the editor, or an op-ed for your newspaper to express your concern about child soldiers, and voice your support for stronger international efforts and standards to prevent the recruitment of children into armed groups, and their use in armed conflict. See
Human Rights Watch's January 8 Op-ed in the Washington Post as an example.
3) There is a SPECIAL CAMPAIGN going on to help children in Uganda. For more information, visit the Human Rights Watch special report on Uganda, and click on "Recommendations." They also have sample letters available. Be sure to check if there is a date they say you should stop writing so you know they still need your help.
45% of those killed in war between 1993 and 1996 were children
CHILD VICTIMS during the past decade:
- Killed: 2 million.
- Disabled: 4-5 million.
- Left homeless: 12 million.
- Orphaned or separated from their families: more than 1 million.
- Psychologically traumatized: some 10 million.
Today, as many as 250,000 children under the age of 18 serve in government forces or armed rebel groups. Some are as young as eight years old.
The participation of child soldiers has been reported in 33 current or recent armed conflicts in almost every region of the world. In 26 of these cases, children under 15 have been used as soldiers.
The most common physical injuries that child soldiers suffer are loss of hearing, loss of limbs, and blindness. In Guatemala, where children were used as advance scouts and mine detectors, mine explosions have been the principal causes of death and injury to children in the army.
Children have been forced to commit atrocities against their own family or neighbors in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, Mozambique, and Nicaragua. Such practices help ensure that the child is "stigmatized" and unable to return to his or her home community.
Both girls and boys are used as child soldiers. In case studies in El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Uganda, almost a third of the child soldiers were reported to be girls. Girls may be raped, or in some cases, given to military commanders as "wives."
Children are most likely to become child soldiers if they are poor, separated from their families, displaced from their homes, living in a combat zone or have limited access to education. Orphans and refugees are particularly vulnerable to recruitment.
here for a map showing where in the world children have been used as soldiers.