A rally to end the use of child soldiers was held on the steps of Wilson Hall early last Thursday. Students and faculty gathered to pay homage to children ages five to 15 who face torture, rape, crimes and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
The rally also was held as a part of the United Nations Academic Impact initiative, which is “a global initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in actively supporting 10 universally accepted principles in areas of human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution,” according to its website. The initiative urges students to share information about child soldiers.
According to sources such as Amnesty International, the Child Soldiers Report of 2008, and Conventions on the Rights of a Child, the Revolutionary Armed Forces, National Liberation Army of Columbia, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam/Sri Lanka and the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda have been using children for years. However, there are other armed forces that use children in Thailand, India, the Philippines and Myanmar, among other countries.
Oscar Sanchez, a junior communication major, helped organize the event along with Tess La Fera, a member of the Institute for Global Understanding.
“People need to find something they are passionate about. They should do something, have something to stand for,” Sanchez said. “This will create a better campus community and an overall a better world; spread the word.”
La Fera said that the event was a response to the Kony 2012 documentary that recently went viral. She commented that people must understand that the forcing of children to become child soldiers is a violation of human rights and awareness must be raised.
“This is so relevant today,” La Fera said. “People need our help as fellow humans; this is our job as metaphorical brothers and sisters.”
The event featured 13 volunteers who read stories and facts from a microphone atop the steps of Wilson Hall. After that, a short video was played that showed the reality experienced by child soldiers. For instance, 16-year-old Susan was captured and forced to kill, then smear the blood on her arms to show that she has no fear of death.
The video also told the story of 14-year-old J.K. from Bong County, Liberia, who was working on his farm when all of a sudden his father told him to hide because the soldiers were coming. J. K. couldn’t hide quickly enough; he was caught, tied and beaten. He used an AK-47 in battle during his time as child soldier, but he was not sure if he killed people when he fired. A rocket hit his leg while he tried to escape; he was brought to a nearby hospital where his leg was amputated. While he was hospitalized, the government gave him money and it was then when he recalled his dreams: he wanted to go to school and start a small business.
“Child soldiers are ideal because they don’t complain, they don’t expect to be paid and if you tell them to kill, they kill,” one student said into the microphone during the rally.
Nancy Mezey, Director of the Institute for Global Understanding, says that this problem exists around the world and that the cause to end it will be benefitted as more people find out about it. “It’s important to understand that the use of child soldiers is a complicated and widespread issue that requires a comprehensive and coordinated global response,” Mezey added.
The video also featured photos of violators of human rights that used children as soldiers in their armies. “They’re terrorists before they even understand the meaning of the word,” read the screen as the video ended.
Heather Kelly, Assistant Director of Student Activities for Multicultural and Diversity Initiatives, attended the rally because she said it was better than only supporting the cause via the Internet. “Reaching people through social media is more from a distance,” Kelly commented. “People don’t feel the cause with a click. It’s not as personal; here, it is more meaningful.”
Students can visit websites such as Amnesty.org, Un.org or read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah to learn more about the cause of ending child soldiers and spread the word.
The event was sponsored by the Social Work Society, the Sociology Club, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity and the Institute for Global Understanding.