12/13/07 - child soldiers

In today's excerpt - the tragedy of child soldiers in contemporary Africa, usually forcibly recruited in their pre-teens or early teens:

"There seems to be a communal complicity in the recruitment of child soldiers, if only that parents teachers, and chiefs were, or felt themselves to be, incapable of doing anything to prevent these young children from being forced to participate in war. Having a child join the military was a strategy for protection of the child, the family, and the community.

"Military training of new recruits is designed to break down the boy soldier's ties to other people and create a new, warlike persona. As [Barbara] Roberts aptly states: 'A soldier must learn to dehumanise other people and make them into targets, and to cut himself off from his own feelings of caring and connectedness to the community. His survival and competence as a soldier depend on this process.' The heavy physical exercise of military training pushes children to high levels of physical exhaustion in order to create mental states conducive to ideological indoctrination. Many young former soldiers in Angola mentioned the [ritual celebration] during which young soldiers were forced to sing and dance non-stop the whole night through. The practice was aimed at making them forget about home and about their parents, brothers, sisters and friends. ... In both Mozambican and Angolan military camps, marijuana and bullet-powder were reported to be widely used to induce forgetting or insensibility, to enhance morale, and to make soldiers fearless when performing horrible deeds. Young boys who had been forcibly inducted often had to endure long periods of darkness, severe beatings and deliberately instilled terror, to impress on them that there was no going back. ...

"Boys in training received their weapons not when they had simply learned how to use them but when they demonstrated their willingness to kill. Fernando, a former child soldier from Mozambique who fought alongside RENAMO (the Mozambique resistance movement), recounted his story ... :

" ' They taught me to dismount and mount guns. After four months of training, they put me to a test. They put a person in front of me and told me to shoot him. I shot him. After the test they considered me good and they gave me a ... gun. And they told me that from that time on I was chief of a group of other children. ... My first task was to attack a village and steal cattle for the base. We burnt down the village. We killed cattle. We returned to the base. Some weeks after that, they ordered us to ambush a convoy which was passing by Maluana. ...

"[A boy named] Marula was kidnapped by RENAMO insurgents during a rebel attack. ... His father and younger sister also were kidnapped, along with other villagers. ... He was not allowed to see his father and sister, but they managed to arrange secret meetings on a few occasions. During one of these meetings, they agreed to run away together. But they were caught attempting to escape. Marula was ordered to kill his own father, and so he did. Following this first killing, Marula grew into a fierce RENAMO combatant and was active for more than seven years. He does not even remember how many people he tortured, how many he killed, how many villages he burned. ... After the war, he returned to his village, but his paternal uncle, the only close relative who survived the war, refused to welcome him home. The uncle, whose brother Marula had killed, could not forgive his nephew. Eventually, through the skillful intervention of his uncle's wife, Marula came to stay in the house despite his uncle's disapproval."


Alcinda Honwana


Child Soldiers in Africa


University of Pennsylvania Press


Copyright 2006 by the University of Pennsylvania Press


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