The Loss of Innocence

By: Jennifer Fierberg

The use of child soldiers in combat has gone on for centuries. Not only are boys recruited for various combat tasks girls are also forced into combat situations as cooks, sex slaves, human shields and other demeaning activities. In order to enslave a child in this way they must first be broken down physically, mentally, sexually and morally in order to be effective in their duties. The 2004 Child Soldiers global report reported one estimate put the number of children involved in armed conflict including combat roles at 100,000. For example, in Rwanda in 2002 child soldiers were used by the Rwandan Government forces and paramilitaries, operating within the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the Democratic Republic of Congo Thousands of children serve in the military, as well as the various rebel militias. At the height of the Second Congo War, it has been estimated that more than 30,000 children were fighting with various parties to the conflict. Zimbabwe, Uganda and Sudan all have been reported as using thousands of child soldiers in combat missions as well.

During the last week of March 2013 numerous NGO’s and other groups will convene on the United Nations to negotiate the Arms Trade Treaty that s to create a level playing field for international arms transfers by requiring all States to abide by a set of standards for transfer controls, which will ultimately benefit the safety and security of people everywhere in the world. These groups gather due to their Concern of the misuse of weaponry around the world. The goal of this convention is to mobilize governments and parliamentarians to call for the global regulation of the conventional arms trade.

According to the Arms Trade; “In all parts of the world, the ready availability of weapons and ammunition has led to human suffering, political repression, crime and terror among civilian populations. Irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons can destabilize security in a region, enable the violation of Security Council arms embargoes and contribute to human rights abuses. Importantly, investment is discouraged and development disrupted in countries experiencing conflict and high levels of violence, which also affect their ability to attain the Millennium Development Goals.”

A strong and comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty is needed in order to eliminate the use of child soldiers in combat missions around the world. One such NGO is on a mission to accomplish the goal of protecting children and women in combat zones. Established in 1996, Vision-Gram International is a human rights organization that focuses on improving socio-economic conditions for vulnerable populations in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Vision-Gram International’s programs focus on the prevention of the conscription of child soldiers and reintegration of former child soldiers into society, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and the fight against impunity for human rights violations. The organization works in particular to defend the rights of women and children, through education initiatives on peace and human rights in the countries in which it works. Vision-Gram International’s DRC-based team works directly with youth, including former child soldiers, to provide the training and support necessary to empower the population and reintegrate them into society.

 Vision GRAM-International believes in the use of real and non-violent weapons to build a productive life. It has launched the campaign “Replace Gun by pen” to support education of former child soldiers. The objective is to give them a pen instead of gun, to give them ball instead of grenade and joy instead of detonation of bombs. Vision Gram seeks to empower these children to change their lives, communities that were destroyed during fighting. They learn responsibility and begin to fight for justice.

Further activities by Vision-Gram International include reintegrating child soldiers and in April 2012 on the Arms Trade Treaty, also in Ottawa, to discuss with students the implications of arms transfers for the recruitment of child soldiers.

Vision-Gram International has joined with the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect and has agreed to following principles set out by the Responsibility to Protect organization.

According to The INTERNATIONAL COALITION FOR THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT (ICRtoP), it brings together NGOs from all regions of the world to strengthen normative consensus for RtoP, further the understanding of the norm, push for strengthened capacities to prevent and halt genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and mobilize NGOs to push for action to save lives in RtoP country-specific situations.

While States will gather at United Nations on march2013 to adopt the strong arms trade treaty, Vision GRAM-International believes that the Diplomatic Conference on the Treaty on the arms trade, to be held in New York will be a strong measure to prevent the recruitment of children and to stop atrocities against the population.

Vision GRAM-International is a member of Control Arms, the coalition and a member of IANSA to fight the proliferation of small arms and light weapon around the world. Their presence at the Arms Trade Treaty will be of great value to the process.

No child should have to hold a gun.

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