Every day, millions of people suffer from the direct and indirect consequences of the poorly regulated arms trade. This month something positive could be done about it. On 18 March, the final negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty will begin in New York. The world desperately needs a final agreement to ensure that no country or arms dealer will sell weapons to governments, companies or armed groups where there is a big risk of those arms and ammunition, ranging from AK-47s to bombers, being used for atrocities or violent abuse.
Intrepid’s friends at Amnesty International tell us, that halting the use of child soldiers in conflicts is just one of a series of compelling reasons for states to adopt a strong Arms Trade Treaty. Child soldiers have reportedly been used in at least 19 countries, according to the global NGO coalition ‘Child Soldiers International’, of which Amnesty International is a member.
Among them is Mali in northwest Africa, where in recent weeks Amnesty International delegates have interviewed eyewitnesses, as well as children as young as 10, who were recruited by the Islamist armed groups currently fighting against Malian and French forces in the north of the country.
In Ségou in the south, Amnesty International met two captured child soldiers, one of whom showed signs of mental illness. His 16-year-old companion told Amnesty International about his forcible recruitment and training by the Islamist armed group:
“They trained us to shoot, aiming at the heart or feet. Before the fighting, we had to eat rice mixed with a white powder and a sauce with a red powder. We also had injections. I had three. After these injections and eating the rice mixed with powder, I would turn like a motor vehicle, I could do anything for my masters. I perceived our enemies like they were dogs and all that was in my mind was to shoot them.”
The boy told Amnesty International that four child soldiers were killed during the fighting to regain control of Diabaly (some 400km north-east of the Malian capital Bamako) from the Islamist armed groups and the Malian and French military forces that took over the city of Diabaly around 20 and 21 January. The organisation has evidence that militia groups supported by the Malian government have also recruited child soldiers previously, but so far there is no documented case of these groups using child soldiers on the front lines.
An overwhelming majority of the world’s states oppose the recruitment and use of anyone under the age of 18 by armed forces or armed groups, since taking part in hostilities robs them of their childhood and exposes them to terrible dangers as well as psychological and physical suffering. Apart from the tragedy of becoming perpetrators of human rights abuses themselves, many child soldiers are killed, maimed or are victims of rape and other sexual violence.
It is a war crime to conscript or use child soldiers under age 15 in active hostilities. A strong Arms Trade Treaty can help to end the forced recruitment of child soldiers by stopping the flow of arms to governments and armed groups that abuse human rights.
For more information about the Arms Trade Treaty, and how you can get involved, please visit amnesty.org.au/armstrade.
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Photo: © Amnesty International