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Concerns on child soldiers. (Readers Forum).

A few thoughts came to mind while reading the article on child soldiers in the December issue of National Defense, page 18.

The suggestions by the experts at the seminar appear to overlook military and population trend reported in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to wit:

The International Labor Organization estimated in 1996 that as many as 200 million children under the age of 15 were out of school in less developed nations and working to support themselves and their families. Working youngsters in African cities, many of them "street children," represented as much as 20 percent of the urban child population. In three countries alone, there existed an estimated 500,000 child prostitutes.

According to the World Health Organization, by the year 2000, 10 million children would be without one or both parents as a result of AIDS.

The Britannica Year in Review 2001 notes that "Wars between nations and within nations convulsed a large swath of Africa stretching across the continent from Ethiopia to Sierra Leone. ... In May, the UN adopted an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that set 18 as the minimum age for combat service." By the end of 2001, only three states had ratified it. Ten ratifications were needed.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found there were 22.3 million refugees worldwide in 1999, of whom approximately 41 percent--or 9.1 million--were under 18 years old.

What does this all mean and what does it have to do with children soldiers?

Consider the lonely and hungry child. No parents or foster parents take core of him. Along comes his benefactor, who promises food, companionship and shelter. All that he is expected to do is to fight for his new master, something he was doing anyway. Now multiply this one child by tens of thousands of others, and you have the child army.

Add to this the battle techniques used by warring countries: In the recent Iran-Iraq War, Iran marched child soldiers in advance of the regular army to help dear mine fields. Hitler's Germany conscripted children, especially during the final stages of the war. North Korea used columns of women and children refugees to hide their combat soldiers. In the Vietnam War, children were used for all conceivable military purposes.

Having said all this, go back to the suggestions of the experts at the CETO conference, Fighting at a distance? Will the child soldier cooperate and keep his distance? Doubtful, especially if he infiltrates the area. Fire for shock? How does one shock the drug-soaked combatant? Eliminate the recruit zones? This has merit, but from what I read in the newspapers, our activities are increasing the recruiting of terrorists and child soldiers. The use of non-lethal weapons? Israel has used rubber bullets and let crippling devices with limited success, why should we expect to be more successful? Psychological operations? Why not? We used psychological warfare in the Pacific War against Japanese, and there could hardly have been a more determined foe than the Japanese.

It would be a lot cheaper in lives and dollars, let alone morality, to correct the population problems described in the Britannica articles. It would also eliminate the possible demoralizing effects of our troops having to kill children. But don't expect any thanks from any of the other nations of the world, East or West. With few exceptions, our past charitable activities have been criticized.

Leonard F. Cremona

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Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Previous Article:Homeland security--the war is over there. (President' Sperspective).
Next Article:More on child soldiers. (Readers Forum).

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