What lengths would you go to in order to protect your child? How about a child that was not yours? You may not know this young individual personally, you may never have the chance to meet them and you may never know what becomes of them, but would you be willing to stand up for their rights if you knew that there are hundreds of thousands of children fighting in over 14 armed conflicts around the world today?
Childhood is a time of innocence and growth, yet these children are trained and tossed into bloody battles where many are forced to kill and suffer unimaginable emotional and physical trauma, some do not make it out alive at all. A hand full may successfully escape or get freed, but reintegration programs are still lacking in funds, resources and proper techniques in order to have these former child soldiers not feel isolated, be shunned by their community or be enticed to rejoin because of the same deplorable conditions that first compelled them to join as a means of survival.
After the Rwanda genocide in 1994, the world community vowed to never let anything like that ever happen again. However, here we stand today witnessing thousands of young children being involuntarily recruited or kidnapped into armed conflicts. Many young girls are sexually exploited while other children are forced to commit horrific, violent acts and bear witness to multiple human rights abuses. Now, what would you do if this was your child or your neighbours’? Surely you would not just stand by and watch.
I’ve written an online petition addressed to Prime Minister Harper in regards to the use of children as weapons in war and the elimination of child soldiers. This is an issue I am very passionate about and I’m trying to spread the word, while creating as much awareness as possible. The Canadian government is taking strides, along with international communities, to help set international policies and legal frameworks to eliminate the use of any child under the age of 18 in armed conflict. While these achievements are not to be overlooked, much still needs to be done and knowing that citizens from across Canada will no longer tolerate the use of child soldiers is one way to stand up and shout for universal child rights.
If you are interested in learning more about the issue of child soldiers, there are some great organizations doing work to stop the use of child soldiers, including Child Soldiers Initiative, War Child Canada, Amnesty International Canada and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
My hope is that in my lifetime we will see all countries agree to a universal legal framework that bans the use of child soldiers and begins to restore children to what they are and should be: children. I realize that this is only one aspect of a multi-faceted issue, as community development is just as important to effectively creating situations in which children are not faced with this issue in the first place, but if I can make just one small step towards achievement of universal ratification of the ban on child soldiers then I am willing to do whatever it takes.
Stephanie Scott is a recent graduate from the University of Manitoba and wants you to read the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/childsol/petition.html.
6: http://childsoldiersinitiative.org/ ),