‘For many, there is no going back.’ Guest post by Lewis Hayes

Through a Social Justice and Art project, Transition Year students of Presentation College, Bray, Co. Wicklow have been exploring the issue of Child Soldiers. Having viewed the controversial ‘KONY2012’ viral video, rather than get into the various debates about Kony himself and the credibility of Invisible Children as an organisation, the group focused on the issue at hand and began asking questions such as: is it OK that this happens to thousands of children worldwide? Why is so little done to effectively prevent it? How would I feel if it happened to me?

Clifton Rooney, the teacher involved in the project, explains how the group are going to use the mural they created to inform others in the school on the issue of child soldiers:

The mural was painted last month [April] in the school here and is going to be used as a starting point to teach other students about the issues. We plan to hold two hour workshops with students to explore the issues using a variety of teaching methodologies. The students that created the mural will present the workshops. There were about fifteen students involved and they have been involved since October. All of the lessons which we initially had were outside of school time. It was in these lessons that the students learned about the issues in great detail with sources from about 8 books on child soldiering, websites and videos.

Lewis Hayes, one of the students involved in the project wrote an article to accompany the mural itself. Below is an extract* from his article.

The contentious film ‘Kony 2012’ – now being described as the most viral video in history with almost 100 million views in less than a week – highlighted Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony’s atrocities and the claim that his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) recruited at least 30,000 child soldiers. This number may be shocking, but it has been estimated that there are anywhere up to 300,000 child soldiers in the world at any one time. Child soldiers lose their childhood because of war. Their lives, often from birth, have been shadowed by the disgrace of anger, violence and death. Every child soldier in the world is being denied their rights; rights that should be observed and respected.

While some child soldiers are born into child soldiering, being the offspring of other soldiers, many are captured or recruited. The capturing of child soldiers is a horrifying event for the children to experience as they often witness family members and friends being tortured and houses being burnt down. They are drugged, more often than not, by the rebel groups to brainwash them into joining the rebel army and committing unthinkable acts of violence.

The children are often recruited by measuring their ability to kill. Some children are disorientated having been drugged and then forced to kill their own family or community members. When they come to, it is difficult to morally come to terms with what they have done. For many, there is no going back.

No child should ever have to experience the battlefield, they shouldn’t know or have to worry about the phrase “kill or be killed” which they must live by as members of a rebel army. They witness brutality, fear and the death of others. Sometimes, because of being heavily drugged, they do not feel pain and carry on fighting even when shot or wounded. They must witness their friends being blown to pieces by grenades, and carry on. They carry on because they have to remain alive, otherwise they could be shot by their leaders. They are psychologically manipulated to make them think that all of this is necessary for some sort of cause. Children are forced to use machetes and guns. The physical weight of the guns they use has hugely decreased, compared to the weight of weapons in the past. This ‘development’ has facilitated the use of child soldiers. Children can now easily use these weapons and remain mobile. Furthermore, access to such weapons seems to be getting easier and cheaper.

There has been huge debate and controversy over the recent ‘Kony 2012’ video but my purpose is not to address this debate specifically. Whether or not Joseph Kony is still actively recruiting children is, for me, not the problem. Child Soldiering is not a unique phenomenon and it is simplistic to suggest that by capturing Joseph Kony, we will end the issue for good. We must look more deeply at its causes in the current global context and explore preventative measures.


*Lewis Hayes’ article will be published in full (along with more details of the project) in our new Taking Action section (coming soon).