TED x: “Demobilizing Child Soldiers – A Story of Change”

February 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

Here is a link to the YouTube of the TEDx talk.

 Amongst the most egregious violations of child rights, is the wide spread use of child soldiers, which continues unabated and with impunity to this day. The Kony 2012 video acted as a wake up call for the civilized world to be reminded about the horrors children in Northern Uganda are exposed to. But it is a fact that everyday hundreds of thousands of children are being used by armed groups all over the world in conflicts.
At a TED x event in Spain, I spoke about this awful practice, and reflect on my time in South Sudan when it was at war with the North and there was rampant use of children as combatants, and as mere cannon fodder in this conflict, as in many parts of the world.What we did in South Sudan was to demonstrate that we do not need to wait for conflicts to end before children can be demobilized from the variegated militaries and militias.  Engaging and persuading all parties to the conflict as well as the broader civil society is critical. Civil societies and communities themselves need to take a strong stand to prevent recruitment of children as it is clear that governments as well as non state actors, can’t do it on their own.

Experts say that once conflicts end and many psychologically scarred child soldiers and young adults, (who have graduated to adulthood from being child soldiers) are demobilized and returned to their communities, it keeps the peace fragile and amplifies the insecurity. Parts of Africa, Asia and South America risk long term instability as there is evidence of children moving from one armed group to another, or become part of criminal gangs.

The Kony 2012 video viewed by over 100 million people, spurred the US congress into action to stop Joseph Kony from getting away with crimes against humanity committed over two decades.  The incarceration of former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor and the notorious Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubunga is a step in the right direction.
We should not be held hostage to the obstinacy of armed groups, who violate the rights of the child and the optional protocols by using and abusing children as combatants or non combatants, regardless of their character, cause or ideology.  Without exception, condemnation of such actions must be unequivocal and universal. There must be ‘zero-tolerance’ of these groups or those that support these groups. They must know that the full force of justice awaits them.

Finally my TED x talk is also a tribute to the leadership of UNICEF and its staff who worked in South Sudan in one of the most adverse and challenging environments then, and they believed that this was the right thing to do, despite the grave risks of such an untried enterprise being undertaken during a conflict and with a very uncertain ending.

Without the partnership, concern and collegiality of the Samaritans Purse, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the UN’s World Food Programme, as well as the local NGOs of South Sudan, this programme could have easily failed.

President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, then the Commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, stood by his word…though it did not end the use children during the remaining years of the conflict, but this was an important beginning. It showed that non state actors can also be encouraged and persuaded to abide by international protocols.

The world needs to stand up and say NO to child soldiers. We all have a stake in shaping a better world, and that means investing, protecting and nurturing all children today

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