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Children are a precious part of the fabric of any society. They are the building blocks of future generations. Yet, they are used and abused in the most atrocious of manners. Why? When will it end? What, if anything, can be done now—and in the near future?
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In Uganda, it is not uncommon for children to be awakened in the middle of the night and taken from their homes at gunpoint. Boys and girls alike, many of them under the age of ten, are recruited in this way for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). They are handed guns and forced to fight against the Ugandan army. Some of the young girls are even made to serve as concubines for LRA leaders.
Seeing what man is capable of, in such mass brutality to his fellow man, is—or at least should be—shocking. And then, putting a child soldier in the place of a man takes the horror to a most tragic level. The prophet Isaiah describes the history of man to our time: “The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goes therein shall not know peace” (Isa. 59:8).
This world has degenerated to an extreme low. Mankind now uses and abuses its most innocent and defenseless of treasures—its own children—in a vain and disgusting attempt to get whatever it desires. In Part 1 of this series, we will look at the issue of “child soldiers.” Those from an affluent nation may have the tendency to emotionally disregard what we will examine as “something that happens to someone else, somewhere else.” Do not allow this to happen!
In Part 2, we will address issues of child use and abuse that are “closer to home.” Remember that we are talking about young, innocent children, who should be absolutely and completely engulfed in the learning and experiencing of the good things in life.
But instead, they are taught to kill...
Make no mistake! War in every form, fought by men or women of every age, is wrong. But the use of children is perhaps the most appalling part of war's horror.
Several African nations with a history of unstable governments and long civil wars are particularly guilty of the use of children as soldiers. Two countries that were recently in the news are Liberia and Sierra Leone, where fighting has broken out again.
A CNN report, “Use of Child Soldiers on the Rise,” indicates that the United Nations Children's Fund believes that up to 60 percent of the armed fighters in Liberia are under the age of 18, and that both government and rebel troops are guilty of recruiting children. According to Christina Clark of the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in Africa, children as young as nine are fighting and killing in Liberia. She says, “Often children are more willing to commit atrocities than adults because they are less developed mentally and emotionally. They are often plied with drugs and alcohol to take away the fear of fighting.”
Nils Kastberg, UNICEF's director of emergency programs, said in this same CNN article, “Sometimes they are forcibly abducted. In some instances for example in northern Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army actually forces children to kill some of their relatives to make sure that they don't go back.” Mr. Kastberg went on to explain that they recruit children to not only “use them as part of firepower but also creating threat and terror.”
A BBC report, “Children of conflict,” estimated that there were 300,000 child soldiers worldwide, and that the number grows every year as more children are recruited. It reported that child soldiers had been used in wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Burma.
A 1999 article in The Economist, “Kalashnikov kids,” reports an estimate by UNICEF that in Uganda, rebels have abducted as many as 8,000 children since 1995!
Amnesty International believes that another 15,000 are in the ranks of Columbia's security forces, and even more in paramilitary groups.
A 2003 article from The Economist, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” pointed out that Ugandan soldiers are actually terrified of these child soldiers, thinking that they possess magical powers.
The conflict in Burma, between government and rebel ethnic minorities, has been going on now for more than 50 years, the civil war in Columbia for 40 years. The longer the civil wars continue, the greater the use and abuse of children.
A November 2001 Time magazine article, “The Child Soldiers,” revealed the bleak landscape of a war-torn Afghanistan. At that time, the Taliban still largely controlled the country. However, the Northern Alliance already existed and, again, both sides were guilty of using child soldiers. One “infantryman” named “Mukhtar” was a natural marksman. He could shoot a man in the head from more than 200 yards away. “I have been in the army for a long time,” he says. “So I should be good at my job.” Indeed, Mukhtar, was a four-year veteran—and only 15 years old. The article reported that most kids joined for the free food, clothes and cigarettes. “This is a very good life,” said one teenager. “I can eat good rice, play chess with my friends and fire many interesting weapons.” Yet despite the “perks,” drug addiction, malnutrition and sexually transmitted diseases are common among the bands of child soldiers.
To believe that it is “a very good life,” while at the same time wallowing in drug addiction and sexually transmitted diseases—and this added to the fact that they live each day to destroy—clearly points to their level of self-deception. The Bible reveals that the whole world is deceived (Rev. 12:9). As we approach the end of the age, this deception has reached an extreme.
Historically, young boys have not been far removed from war. For generations, boys in Africa have fought beside their fathers in defense of their villages. Young drummer or trumpet boys have led American and European armies into war; their navy's ships also had boys on them. In 1945, Berlin was defended by 15-year- olds.
And then there are the ambiguous issues of different cultures. What is normal culturally for a 14-year-old in Southeast Asia would not be acceptable in Britain. In the latter, a 12-year-old carrying an AK47 assault weapon seems obviously unacceptable, but a 17-year-old, less so. The United Nations defines children as those under the age of 18, but even the U.S. and Britain accept volunteers younger than that into their armed forces. Despite these issues, an article in the July 8, 1999 issue of The Economist titled “Kalashnikov kids” identified two significant—and frightening— trends.
Firstly, “Children tend to be used heavily as soldiers during prolonged civil wars; and such civil wars abound at present.” God said this would be the case, and increasingly so, as the 6,000-year period of mankind's self-rule, under the influence of Satan, came to a close. That time is now! Notice Matthew 24:6: “And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars.”
The second trend identified is: “...although children were once recruited only when the supply of adult fighters ran short, the youngest are now often recruited first.”
The previously mentioned BBC report further explained that the development of lighter weapons, such as the AK47, means that boys as young as eight are strong enough to be armed. It is said that child soldiers are fearless, and that their unpredictability makes them “better fighters.” They are also less demanding than adult soldiers, easier to manipulate and cheaper, as they eat less. A Congolese rebel officer had this to say about why “kadogos” (boy fighters) “make very good soldiers”: “...they obey orders, they are not concerned about getting back to their wife or family, and they don't know fear” (“Kalashnikov kids”).
Children wage war with little understanding of the conflict—fighting only for whoever controls them in order to stay alive. With the joys of childhood ripped from their lives, it is almost as though they have reverted to some basic survival instinct. In lengthy civil wars, children have even been known to fight for both sides.
In Sierra Leone, the pro-government militia known as “the Kamajors” initiate their new child-recruits into “secret societies” in which they are taught that following the society's rules will bring them magical powers (“juju”), which will later protect them from the enemy's bullets (BBC, “Children of conflict”). In addition, the rebels make it deliberate policy to use child soldiers to destroy the local social order. For example, the youngest recruit may be used to execute the chief of a village just attacked. Or, the abducted children will attack their own villages and families to further the cycle of feeling cast out of their communities, and thereby more closely associated with the rebels.
Olara Otunnu, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and former spokesman for President Obote of Uganda, estimates that 2 million children have been killed bearing arms since 1987, and three times that number have been seriously injured or permanently disabled (“Kalashnikov kids”).
Some, as we have read, are abducted and forced to fight for their government or for some rebel army. Others join willingly—in a frantic attempt to alleviate the constant gnaw of hunger, to escape violence at home, or to search for something better than their poverty-stricken lives. In any case, they are desperately looking for answers, only to find themselves in even more desperate and terrifying straits.
Then there is the tragic situation of a professional army encountering militias made up of children. Recently in Afghanistan, for example, the U.S. army has taken losses from Taliban boys with small-arms. How is the U.S. army supposed to react in such situations and what are the implications of men killing boys? The Christian Science Monitor addressed this issue in a 2002 article titled “Tough calls in child-solder encounters,” recounting the story of a British patrol that was taken hostage in late 2000 by a rogue militia in Sierra Leone, largely made up of children. The squad commander had apparently refused to open fire, and yet a rescue assault, 16 days later, left an estimated 25 to 150 enemy forces dead, including many children. Major Jim Gray of the British Royal Marines, who served on a UN observer mission in Sierra Leone in 1999 said, “The impact of being fired on by a child is an initial shock, but the soldiers will do their job. But if you don't care for them when they come home, it might destroy them.”
Unfortunately, however, they will not receive the care they need when they get home. That care will only come after one more absolutely terrible time just ahead—a time known as the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21-22), when mankind will finally learn that living his way brings only destruction and sadness. Then, after the Return of Jesus Christ, mankind will be taught the way of God, the way of GIVE—of love, and outgoing concern for their fellow man and child. Weapons will be turned into tools of agriculture (Isa. 2:4), and “...neither shall they learn war any more.”
How do children come out on the other side of these horrific atrocities? Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone said, “I kept pulling the trigger for three years. I ran out of tears to shed” (The Christian Science Monitor, “Tough calls in child-soldier encounters,” June 27, 2002). Following are some quotes from BBC's “Children of conflict,” from children describing their horrific experiences:
“I was so afraid of dying. But my friends warned me if the rebel commanders detected any fear in me they would kill me. So I had to pretend to be brave.” - Charles, 12, Rwandan refugee
“I just want to go home and be with my family.” - Christopher, 12, Uganda
“They abducted me but still they went ahead to kill my mother and father that night.” - Richard, 12, Rwandan refugee
“I joined the army when I was young (at 15) without thinking much. I admired soldiers, their guns and crisp, neat uniforms. I just wanted to fight the way they did in the movies and so I joined the army.” - Htay, 21, Burmese ex-army soldier
These things are only going to get worse. Retired Marine Colonel Randy Gangle, executive director of the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities (CETO), a partnership between the Marine Corps and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, said, “My sense is this will grow rather than diminish. This is a very easy way for individuals to recruit armies and sustain those armies when they take a high number of casualties” (The Christian Science Monitor, “Tough calls in child-soldier encounters,” June 27, 2002).
As you may have learned from the pages of this magazine, mankind will typically take the easier of paths, as it goes about living the way of GET, not GIVE. Combine this characteristic of human nature with the multitude of desperate situations around the world, and the fact that they are getting more desperate each day as we approach the end of mankind's 6,000-years of self-rule, and it is becoming clear that it will only grow much worse.
But thankfully, after it gets worse, it will get better. Notice Matthew 24:22: “And except those days be shortened, there should no flesh be saved [alive]: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.” For more information about this time just ahead, you are urged to read our two books America and Britain in Prophecy and Tomorrow’s Wonderful World – An Inside View!
War is horror! It is the ultimate expression of mankind living the way of GET. Six thousand years of living his way—being deceived by and subjected to the influence of Satan the devil—instead of GOD'S WAY, has resulted in almost constant war, as a “solution” to one issue or the other. The apostle James asks and answers the question of the origin of war: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet have not, because you ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts” (Jms. 4:1-3).
Children are a treasure—in fact, they are not only our little treasures, but they are a treasure of God's as well. Notice Psalm 127:3: “Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” The Hebrew word translated “heritage” means “something inherited”—children are a gift, a “reward” from God! They are energetic and inquisitive, and should be learning and experiencing the joys of childhood. They should not be experiencing war in any manner, much less be active participants! Thankfully, a time is coming when the world will be very different than it is now. Notice Zechariah 8:4-5: “Thus says the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.”
It is unfortunate though, as we mentioned near the beginning, that it is somewhat easier to read the tragic details written here when you live so far away from Uganda, Sierra Leone or Columbia. It is a little easier when you make yourself believe, “Well, at least that doesn't happen to my child.” Be very careful! This is the very type of self-centered “love” that comes naturally for the human mind, but it is not the love of God. Human love will typically care only for oneself, and for those directly around, such as family and friends. Godly love, on the other hand, cares for others more than for self.
In Part 2, we will look at some other horrific ways in which our children are used and abused. These ways are more widespread, and hit closer to home.