Children At War II: What Can Be Done To Help Stem It?
P.W. Singer offers a range of options for addressing the ominous spread of the child soldier doctrine in “Children At War” . They are well-worth the time to list here.
First and foremost, advocates for child soldier rehabilitation should link their calls to action to the broader security concerns yielded by child soldiers like destabilizing conflict, transnational refugee flows and man-made environmental catastrophe.
Empower the locals! Local NGO’s and religious and community leaders, who can make appeals against the practice on the basis of local values and customs must be supported if lasting change is going to take effect on the ground.
Foster “smart & judicial” efforts that focus on the worst abuses like those of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and FARC in Colombia, not foolish campaigns like the type waged by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers against the use of barely underage soldiers in Western militaries. Shrewd use of the limited political capital and media attention (like that which surrounds the release of a popular movie like “Blood Diamond” or an ongoing conflict as in Sri Lanka) is necessary to succeed in countering the lies of false public relations efforts crafted by groups like the above who try to enjoy the stature of statesmen on the international stage. Lack of focus on what’s important literally kills.
Criminalizing the doctrine is an important step forward. Connect the practice with punishment of the type received by war criminals at the Hague or other justice tribunals. Focus on the doctrine itself rather than the abuses that result, lowering the bar for prosecution. This is key, because the widespread presence of child soldiers with groups is relatively easy to prove, making prosecutions more realistic against key figures like Charles Taylor. In the end, such a strengthening of the existing law would render the means (using child soldiers) as much of an offense as the ends (the terrible results like mass slaughter, endemic rape campaigns like the RUF’s “Operation Fine Girl” and widespread social chaos).
Activists could focus their efforts upon the weak link in the enabling of the child soldier doctrine, the child soldier group leaders’ trading partners, whom they depend upon for their riches, utilizing the triple threat of stigmatization, boycott and lawsuit. Trading partners and businesses are more vulnerable to outside pressure than complicit governments, and within America, the use of the Alien Tort Claims Act should be considered.
In the end, the present strategy of raising awareness and shaming child soldier users will only go so far (one cannot shame the shameless). For the practice to end, an additive of deterrence is required as the cost/benefit calculation by groups must change. Issue-driven tribunals approved by the UN Security Council should be considered as a way to fight both the use of child soldiers and the crimes that result; like mass rape and massive resource theft.
Next: Why Western militaries are particularly vulnerable to the child soldier doctrine and how to respond to the danger.