- Family and Friends
At the root of every war, at the root of every conflict, and at the root of every issue testing mankind lie major causes. Every issue, every conflict, and every war has underlying causes which are responsible for the spreading of the destruction. This is not unlike the destruction and the spreading of water in tsunamis because of the crushing of tectonic plates resulting in the formation of earthquakes. The use of child soldiers also has its underlying causes. Adolescents being neglected and the breakdown of the family system, the need for soldiers in case of civil strife, the progressive nature of technology to lighter and easily carried weapons, the voluntary and conscription methods of recruiting in the world today, and the displacement of children in certain areas are the major causes of the grave recruitment of child soldiers. Before even attempting to break the grasp of factions and government armies on child soldiers, the causes must be analyzed. In order to stop any major conflict on issue in the world, the causes must be taken away. By taking away the jenga pieces supporting the jenga pieces above them, the entire system will collapse. An in-depth analysis and understanding of the causes of the recruitment of child soldiers is the first step in breaking the link between children and a future of war, destruction, and violence. Child Soldiers are robbed of the fragile childhood and thrown into a vicious cycle of killing and fighting against their friends and families.
The statement that war is one of the major causes of the use of child soldiers is considered so obvious that major anti-child soldier organizations have ironically failed to mention it even as a casual cause. This naïve ignorance is a major reason that many current efforts are failing. Furthermore, war is such an enormous force of destruction and normality in many third world countries that children grow up with the belief that it is a part of everyday life. The presence of war in a child’s backyard creates a constant need for self-protection through violence; additionally, war is a direct cause of many socioeconomic pressures such as the breakdown of family systems, the closing of schools, and the increased social tensions of poverty. These socioeconomic pressures lead children to view involvement in military conflicts as the only choice.
In practically all nations with child soldiers, there is an ongoing conflict.
War works at disrupting the family and other social support networks. It displaces and scatters many family members, leaving children with the responsibility of protecting themselves and their younger siblings. Military conflict also increases social tensions between racial, ethnic, and religious groups. The building of tensions and the lack of protection lead to the destruction of the social and economic infrastructure of a country. The lack of a stable family system and country infrastructure leads to the involvement of children in conflicts because of their malleable mindset in handling tense situations. Living in a world of armed violence influences young people to use armed violence themselves. It creates feelings of insecurity, an atmosphere in which violent behavior is considered legitimate, and a link to the ready availability of weapons.
Although conflicts perpetuate many problems, they also provide opportunities for those in search of an escape from the status quo. For those especially seeking an escape from home, an escape from maltreatment, or merely seeking an adventurous life, the temptations are heightened during a military conflict. The most obvious escape route is to join an armed group because of the opportunities to release tensions through the use of readily available weapons. This is true particularly for individuals with the most inadequate alternative options.
Real testimony on war
I knew of war from the time I was a small child. I knew the world of war only.
- Ajith, Sri Lanka
Throughout our history, Afghans have always carried weapons. It is because of security problems. In Afghanistan there was only the town or the central cities that had police commanders to keep and save the citizens.
- Hassan, Afghanistan
You see, like all the people there, it’s like: they defend themselves with knives, and so, why not me? I’ll do the same and we won’t let anyone try and pull a fast one on us.
- Richard, Colombia
Congo is a turbulent country, violence is often around us, and in order to protect yourself you have to fight.
- Albert, Congo-Brazzaville
It’s because of the war. When it’s the war, you don’t choose...because if you have weapons, you can defend yourself, if you don’t have any, you are beaten, one kills you, and one rapes you, even the boys.
- Christine, DRC
Poverty is a major factor in making children exposed to involvement in armed forces and armed groups. It is the most common attribute of child soldiers, which is one of the reasons why it is regularly labeled as the cause of child soldiering. This applies both in war situations and in more passive circumstances where armies recruit adolescents. In fact, the opposite clearly illustrates the point: the children of the rich rarely do military service even universal conscription is in use. A study of demobilized child soldiers in a transit center in DRC found that 61 percent of the three hundred children surveyed had a family with no income, and more than half had at least 6 siblings. This does not mean that poverty fully explains why child soldiers are used, but it is a very strong contributing factor. Those who were already poor may be pulled even further down by the conflict, or war may create or increase a relative economic decline of those who previously were not so bad off. Poverty is a factor in its own right, but it also affects other critical issues for young people such as the ability to access schooling, which in turn limits the employment or other economic opportunities for young people. All these aspects of general poverty tend to be exaggerated by war. Children with a background of poverty view military conflict as the only haven that can support their physical, mental, and emotional needs.
Real testimony on poverty
My mother was a nurse; my father was retired from the army. Before the war, he had a bit of money, as he owned two buses and a mill for fufu. We lost everything through the war.
- Albert, Congo-Brazzaville
Education has a profound impact on a child and will shape the rest of their lives.
The conditions of education have a very big impact on young children. Through education and childhood, children form their values and goals for life. Both access to education and the content that is actually taught in schools are equally important. The relevance of education to employment, the way in which children are treated in their schools, or the way the school operates as a recruiting place are also important when studying the relationship between education and the recruitment of child soldiers. Similarly, the lack of education is a dangerous trap because children find armed violence as the only possible solution to their insatiable boredom. Children grow up with the burdens of providing for themselves and their families because of the unstable economic situation of families in third-world countries.
Often, government and other armed forces use schools as an essential part of their recruiting process. Leaders of such groups realize that schools and education is a very reliable method of indoctrinating their own causes into the minds of the children. Schools are also often used in order to exaggerate the divisions between groups in society in order to create an opportunity for hatred and violence.
While studying the importance of education, the link between education and employment is also very important. In many unstable socioeconomic countries, this link is very weak. Children often find themselves thrown into the world of poverty and unemployment, as education proves to have no vital importance. Unemployment is also inevitable in many warlike situations. This constant cycle of poverty creates only one path that seems to have economic protection: the path of armed involvement. As situations progress in third-world countries, the link between education and employment is completely destroyed. Children come to believe that education is unimportant in their lives. This false and immature realization throws children into a world of conflict and war.
Real testimony on education
The main cause of going there was unemployment, I think. I had nothing to do here so I went there. If you have some business or you are studying then you do not think about taking part in Jihad.
- Aziz, Pakistan
Education does not lead to employment, so why bother? The state no longer recruits, you have a Ph.D. and you are a taxi man!
- Albert, Congo-Brazzaville
The rebels came in the schools to speak to us and they said that we had to fight against Mobutu.
- Vanessa, DRC
We, all the youngsters, thought it was natural to join the LTTE since there was no standard jobs on offer; my brothers have done the same, and so have most others.
- Sudhahar, Sri Lanka
Family and Friends
This boy is being shunned by the older people in his community.
The direct family, the extended family, the community, and friends form the social support network that is one of the most important influences on young people and the choices they make.
Of these, the family situation is the most significant factor in the involvement of children in armed forces or groups. Although family, or a lack of it, also affects adults, it is in the nature of childhood that the family environment has a greater impact on the decisions of children. In a “normal” life, the family is recognized as being a major factor in the development of children and their choice of profession or occupation; what is extraordinary is how little attention has been given to it as a factor in involvement in warfare. This may reflect the relative lack of attention specifically to adolescents and their reasons for becoming involved in armed conflict. Although the family’s presence, absence, or role comes through as a major factor in the general environmental context of these young people, its importance increases as the critical moment of decision approaches.
For some, involvement in the military is a normal and acceptable part of family life. When parents, siblings, or other family members are involved with the military, joining up seems natural, particularly if it is involved with a religious, ethnic, or ideological element to the family involvement. For others, the family might not be directly involved in military action but is in the movement supporting the political ends. Similarly, the lack of a family acts a factor that pushes children into military involvement. Children without a family or close friends are especially vulnerable to recruitment because of their fragile emotional and mental state.
The peer group is another major influence on adolescents. This is equally true in relation to their perceived identity in general and the particular pressure to join an armed group. As with the other environmental factors identified, this does not mean that all the young people in a group will join, but rather, it means that where many of the members of a group participate in the conflict, the pressure to join is greater.
Real testimony on family and friends
I come from a warrior’s family; as far as I can remember, my father has always been in the rebellion.
- Catherine, DRC
I was two years old when my father died…I have two elder brothers; the first one joined LTTE and he died a hero’s death in battle. The second one also joined LTTE.
- Sudhahar, Sri Lanka
My family is not there anymore. They died during the conflict, [and] they are all dead. The soldiers came in the villages, they plundered and killed everybody, they raped the women and the girls; they killed everyone, even the children.
- Christine, DRC
All my friends from my childhood, the ones I used to play cars with, play bandits, they’re all in the same outfit now.
- Carlos, Colombia
Analyzing adolescence as a cause is vital in the overall study of the causes of child soldier recruitment. Studying adolescence may provide insight into the thought patterns and reactions to different situations by children in areas of instability. In many third-world countries, children are forced to take on many responsibilities that are normally a part of adulthood, such as putting the bread on the table for an entire family. Even though teenagers may seem adept at different tasks normally done by adults, they still need support, encouragement, and moral guidance. These additional responsibilities place unnecessary stress on a child, forcing them to fall back on military involvement.
According to many theories such as that of Erik Erikson, adolescence is a time during which one’s image as viewed by society is more important then their own feelings about themselves. During the stage of adolescence, children will continually attempt to adapt their personalities to accommodate for the differences between themselves and their peer group. This has a momentous impact on children at the time of signing up for military conflicts. Children seemed to face more of a struggle than adults at resisting a movement or rebellion. Leaders of many armed groups take advantage of the vital stage of adolescence by projecting violent methods through propaganda to deal with people that are considered “different.” The weakness of children makes it even easier for adults to alienate two different parts of society in the mindsets of the children. Society may incite or urge children to take violent actions against people who are designated as enemies.
Adolescence also generates feelings of strength and power, a direct result of the physical and mental immaturity present in children. The presence of a mindset of invulnerability in youth pushes them to the decision to join and fight in an ongoing conflict. The context of war might also provide the young people with opportunities. They can become important members of their families in terms of protection or helping them survive by providing them with security. The need for a sense of importance for boys especially preludes any fear of death or injury.
Real testimony on adolescence
Because I personally believe that when people are young, others can abuse them. It is my very unfortunate fate that I was drawn into wars.
- Javad, Afghanistan
You see people fighting, earning money, then you want to make the same.
- Pierre, Congo-Brazzaville