At the beginning of the 20th century, wars were fought primarily on defined battlefields between men in governmental armed forces. Today, dozens of wars specifically target civilians and their social institutions. Children have become increasingly involved in these wars, both as civilian victims and as combatants. Poverty, social disruption and destruction caused by these wars, and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons are major factors in expanding the use of child soldiers.
In dozens of countries around the world, children have become direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence, some 300,000 children are serving as soldiers in current armed conflicts. Hundreds of thousands more are members of armed forces who could be sent into combat at any time. These young combatants participate in all aspects of contemporary warfare. They use AK-47s and M-16s on the front lines of combat, serve as human mine detectors, participate in suicide missions, carry supplies, and act as spies, messengers or lookouts.
Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make obedient soldiers. Many are recruited by force, and often forced to follow orders under threat of death. Others join armed groups out of desperation. As society breaks down during conflict, leaving children no access to school, driving them from their homes, or separating them from family members, many children perceive armed groups as their best chance for survival. Others seek escape from poverty or join military forces to avenge family members who have been killed. Children commonly start out in support positions, acting as porters, cooks, or spies. Often, though, these children end up on the frontlines of combat, planting or detecting landmines or participating in first-wave assaults. Often plied with drugs and given promises of food, shelter, and security, child soldiers are at times forced to commit atrocities against other armed groups and civilian populations, including sometimes their own families and communities.
Because of their immaturity and lack of experience, child soldiers suffer higher casualties than their adult counterparts. Even after the conflict is over, they are examples when they are left physically disabled or psychologically traumatized. Frequently denied an education or the opportunity to learn civilian job skills, many find it difficult to re-join peaceful societies. Schooled only in war, former child soldiers are often drawn into crime or become easy prey for future recruitment.
A text about the horrors of war.
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