The Kony campaign is a day late and a dollar short, as the saying goes…and a lot of folks in Africa are annoyed that these do-gooders just noticed the fight, which has been going on for quite awhile.

Some Africans think they are cashing in on it (while libeling the good things going on in Uganda). LINK.

But as I have pointed out, the film, which has gone viral on Facebook, has opened the eyes of many, including our teenagers, that evil exists and that it is necessary to fight it. Yes, I am sceptical that buying a ribbon will do much to help, but the good news is that the fight will bring a lot of westerners to become aware of the plight of child soldiers.

One of my friends, an African teacher, helped to rehabilitate the rebels after the Zimbabwean fight for independence, and told me about some of the problems they faced.

Rehabilitating children who learned to fight at a young age is difficult (they learn that they can do anything or steal anything because they have a gun; they now have to be retrained to obey the basic laws of society: no stealing, no raping, no killing).

Another part of the rehabilitation is training them for a new job, so that they can support themselves. This includes the young women, who often got pregnant  and had a child to support. (Having a baby out of wedlock is not a big thing in Bantu society, but in Somalia and other strict Muslim societies, they are at risk for being ostracized.)

This, however, assumes young teenagers recruited who agree to fight (often for food, or for adventure, or maybe even because they believe in the cause). And the majority of Zimbabwean rebels were disciplined soldiers: yes there were atrocities, but not the mass terror against civilians that has happened in the wars of Central Africa, where up to 4 million people have died from the fighting or the associated spread of famine and disease.

The real reason that very young children (under age 15) are targeted as recruits, mainly by non governmental groups, is because they are more obedient, and their aversion to killing and torture is easier to break down.

Older teenagers (age 15-18) who join for food or out of a love of adventure are also problem, and some government allow older teens to join their armed forces.

But the real atrocity is the plight of very young children, who are kidnapped or who are recruited from street children, and who used by some groups  as slaves or prostitutes before they are old enough to handle a gun. Nor is the problem of children being used as soldiers limited to Africa: insurgents of all stripes have recruited children.

So how does one fight this misuse of children?

First, establish peace. That is the job of soldiers and peacekeepers.

Second, hunt down and arrest those responsible. That is the work of international organizations, and it says a lot that after years of atrocities, only the Congolese war lord Thomas Lubanga was convicted by an international court for war crimes for his use of child soldiers.  From the UKGuardian:

“The prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Thomas Lubanga is guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities,” said presiding judge Adrian Fulford, who took half an hour to deliver the verdict. Lubanga “was essential to a common plan to conscript and enlist girls and boys below the age of 15,” he added.

The judges said children were forced into camps in the Ituri region, where they were placed under harsh training regimes and brutally punished. Soldiers and army commanders under Lubanga’s authority used girls as domestic workers and subjected them to rape and sexual violence, they added.

Third, heal the society. Peace and reconciliation groups, some governmental but often church related, are active in this last activity, not only promoting forgiveness but working hard to rehabilitate the soldiers to re-integrate them into society.

Since many of these church groups are programs run by local Christian churches, not by European or other elite charities, you probably aren’t aware of such things, unless your church supports a sister church in one of these areas that does such outreach. And I wrote about this in a previous essay.

The bad news: None of these things are easy to do.

The emotional and psychological scars from such wars are not always recognized by outsiders, which sometimes leads to misunderstanding by outsiders who don’t realize that some things are not talked about.For example, the activists who are pushing gay rights on Africa (including the Obama administration), sees gay rights as part of the liberation of the individual in culture with a western style of individualism and freedom…and they are aghast at the highly emotion response rejecting their proposals, and can only attribute the rejection to “homophobia” caused by their favorite enemy, “fundamentalist Christians” (who are actually a small minority in many of these countries (where the majority are less dogmatic Anglicans, Catholics, Muslims,  or follow the practices of their Traditional religion)

What is the missing link to the angry homophobia? A high rate of sexual abuse against vulnerable boys, especially in areas that suffered from civil wars…check this UKGuardian report.

It’s not just in East Africa that these stories remain unheard. One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California’s Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia

In many Bantu tribes, one does not show anger…so the anger caused by such abuse remains repressed until it explodes, hence the extreme anger at gay rights as an imposition by “western imperialists”.

Nor is sexual exploitation of boys limited to child soldiers: remember the street kids are vulnerable to such things too…and not just in Africalink

Ironically, most of this abuse is by heterosexual men, and like the exploitation of women, is often an expression of power and control…”because they can”….

When I was considering adoption, we were cautioned to assume that all older girls and half of older boys probably had been sexually abused, and to remember that when they became teenagers and started acting out.



Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines.

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