The International Criminal Court today convicted a Congolese warlord of using child soldiers, the Associated Press reports. The decision came just days after the very viral Kony 2012 campaign to catch infamous Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted thousands of children over the past two decades.
“In this age of global media, today’s verdict will reach warlords and commanders across the world and serve as a strong deterrent,” the U.N.’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said in a statement. The ICC indicted Kony seven years ago for crimes including using child soldiers, but has not been able to catch him.
According to the nonprofit group Child Soldiers International (CSI), the problem of children in war is most critical in Africa, but extends to more than 25 countries around the world. The biggest offenders inside Africa between 2004 and 2007, according to CSI’s most recent report, were Chad, the Congo Republic, Somalia, Sudan, Southern Sudan and, yes, Uganda. But the United Kingdom also made the list, having sent children under 18 to fight in Iraq, as did Israel, which has recruited children under 18 to its police-affiliated civil guard.
Children are protecting from being used in war by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was passed into law in 1989:
“State parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities.”
As of 2002, language was added to urge that all measures be taken not to include children between the ages of 15 and 18, either.
While armies often forcibly abduct children into armies, as is the case with Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, many other times children enlist “voluntarily.” According to international human rights NGO Amnesty International, children make the choice because they don’t see another alternative, view it as a means of survival, or — in the case of girls — want to escape violence or sexual abuse.
A recent Amnesty International report singled out Somalia’s Islamist groups for being a major recruiter of children under 15. “As a child in Somalia, you risk death all the time: You can be killed, recruited and sent to the frontline,” Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's deputy director for Africa, said on the group’s Web site. “They risk becoming a lost generation if the world continues to ignore the war crimes affecting so many of them.”
Evelyn Apoko, a 22-year-old former child soldier, managed to escape being part of that lost generation by running away from the LRA. In the following video, which she made in response to a statement by Rush Limbaugh’s in defense of the LRA, she describes the brainwashing and murders she witnessed as a child fighting in war:
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