A retired Canadian general’s impassioned call for action to eliminate the world’s most “cost-effective and renewable weapon system in existence today”: the child soldier.
Dallaire (Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, 2004), founder and head of the Child Soldiers Initiative (CSI), writes that he first encountered child combatants while leading the international peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1993. Ever since, he has been haunted by the fact that some 250,000 children—40 percent of them girls—are being robbed of their innocence while serving with government and rebel forces in world conflicts. All under 18, and some as young as eight, child soldiers have fought in more than 30 conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and other regions. While human-rights conventions and laws prohibit such use of children, writes the author, little has been done to enforce them. Dallaire’s troubling book, written out of evident frustration over the world’s failure to act, draws on six years of CSI research. He writes that children who grow up poor, undernourished and often orphaned in areas of conflict are regularly recruited by ruthless adult military leaders offering money, drugs, uniforms, chants and rallies that give a sense of belonging. The children are readily available in overpopulated countries, and lightweight assault rifles and other easy-to-use weapons can be obtained for them without difficulty. Girls, often overlooked in discussions of this topic, are valued not only as combatants but also as cooks, nurses and sex slaves. After indoctrination and grueling training, the children become vicious frontline killers. Three chapters are fictional narratives in which Dallaire conjures the horrors of soldiering from a child’s point of view. The author outlines steps to prevent the recruitment of children for warfare and urges readers to help create the political will to act against recruiters and arms dealers.
A blunt, angry cry: “What has humanity created?”