Our View-Children should be in school, not fighting in wars

In the opening scenes of “24: Redemption,” the season premiere of the series “24” last week, a warlord in the fictitious African country of Sangala tells a boy around 10 years old to “Kill the cockroach.” The warlord hands the boy a machete.

With other child soldiers rabidly chanting encouragement, the boy kills the kneeling, pleading adult object of scorn, presumed to be a neighboring enemy.

While the above depiction is only a TV show, the tragic portrayal is not an anomaly; it happens all of the time.

It isn’t a mystery that many countries in conflict find young people to be the best soldiers to carry out mayhem and violence. It’s a tactic as old as the art of war. Children are expendable.

The initial footage of the carnage in Mumbai, India last week showed what appeared to be teenagers armed with smiles and AK 47s. This is not the imagery found on a Hallmark card. It is a reality in Third World countries, where children are trained to kill and maim without questioning their leaders.

Children, in fact, are used in armed conflicts around the globe. They are recruited in Afghanistan, the Sudan, Columbia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Philippines, to name a few.

A May UNICEF report to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made reference to a 12-year-old Taliban-trained suicide bomber and documented many other instances of children recruited as soldiers.

According to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of a Child, there are more than 250,000 children “used in the war of the adults.” Most of the exploited children live in poverty.

Red Hand Day 2009 is a global campaign to stop the practice of recruiting and training children to be killers. While Red Hand Day might be a few months away, we’re starting early to encourage readers to get involved in the project.

The protest, started by children and teenagers, is simple. You dip your hand in red finger paint and press it onto a piece of paper. You then write your name and hometown on the flier and send it to the United Nations in New York by Feb. 12.

Organizers of the project, the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, hope to send one million of these stark messages.

Once children are recruited — or kidnapped in many cases — they are exposed to brutal living conditions. They are subject to harsh discipline that is maintained by brutal punishment. They are deprived of adequate food, sanitary water and health care. Many are psychologically abused, drugged and/or sexually molested.

Boys aren’t the only ones at risk in conflict areas. Girls are required to live under the same conditions, with many being raped.

The United Nations General Assembly set international legal standards with a minimum age limit of 18 years old for military service or recruitment in 2000. That protocol became effective on Feb. 12, 2002, but is largely ignored by conflict countries.

Government officials and military leaders that violate children’s rights should be held accountable for war crimes.

For more information or to become involved in Red Hand Day, please visit redhandday.org.

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