09 February 2017
9 February 2017 - On the occasion of the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers on 12 February 2017, Entreculturas and the Jesuit Refugee Service join Pope Francis' monthly intention to pray and mobilise for the end of the use of child soldiers, in collaboration with the Pope Worldwide Prayer Network.
Child soldiers – some as young as six years old – are forced to fight and kill, as well as be involved in activities like espionage, supporting armed groups as informants and messengers, engaging in illicit activities such as drug production. They are also used for sexual exploitation. Many are killed, seriously wounded or imprisoned. They are regular victims of abuse to transform them into violent persons with the result that rehabilitation into society is an enormous challenge. There is often a strong link between forced displacement and the forced recruitment of children. Displaced children are an easy target for recruiters since they often lack adequate protection and education and are easier to manipulate.
More than 230 million children around the world, live in areas affected by armed conflict. Although there is no accurate data on the total number of child soldiers, it is estimated that there are around 250,000. According to the UN, 17 countries and territories carry out this human rights violation.
Pope Francis entrusts intentions each month to his World Prayer Network that focus on social challenges and the Church's mission. His monthly prayer intention through "The Pope's Video" is a worldwide call to turn prayer into "concrete gestures". In the month of December, the Pope invited us to pray and mobilise for child soldiers and children forced to participate in violence. The only weapon for boys and girls should be education.
Coinciding with the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network invites us to pray and mobilise for the cause of child soldiers, as well as to support the projects of Entreculturas and the Jesuit Refugee Service to ensure that these children do not spend their childhood on a battlefield. People are also encouraged to support Pope Francis' initiative by signing the related petition. The campaign has been launched in both English and Spanish and has been shared in more than 20 countries.
Entreculturas and the Jesuit Refugee Service work to support, serve and defend the rights of child refugees and forcibly displaced children. They promote educational programs that protect children from the violence and give them everything they need to learn, and allow them to become children again. In situations of displacement, education is an essential means of protection and hope for the future of these children.
Entreculturas currently provides support to three JRS initiatives:
Central African Republic
The Central African Republic is immersed in a humanitarian, political and economic crisis and has been since 2012. This situation has led to massive displacement, with 418,000 displaced persons both outside and inside the country. JRS and Entreculturas work in the south and centre of the country, specifically in Bangui and Bambari, helping children to recover a normal life, to return to their rightful place: school. Programmes include awareness raising, psychosocial support and general training sessions, including actions for peace and reconciliation. For girls, special psychosocial and educational attention is provided to facilitate their reintegration.
In 2011, more than 130,000 refugees arrived in Maban, South Sudan, fleeing their homes in the Blue Nile district of Sudan. Two years later, these refugees found themselves trapped between two wars: the Sudanese government was bombing their land in the Blue Nile, and South Sudan was experiencing episodes of unprecedented ethnic hatred because of civil war. Both situations continue.
The boys and girls in this area live with the constant threat of being recruited as child soldiers. That is why Entreculturas and JRS opened the Arrupe Learning Center, a residential teacher training program in Maban, in order to offer higher quality education at our schools in the refugee camp.
In Colombia, girls, boys, and adolescents have been at the mercy of recruitment by armed groups, a risk even further exacerbated for those who have been forcibly displaced. In addition to participating directly in armed groups, displaced young people are often forced to become informants, to transport arms, to kill on orders, and are sometimes sexually exploited. Entreculturas and JRS have worked and continue to work to raise awareness and report on this threat to children and young people through dialogue with Colombia's diplomatic missions in the UN Security Council, especially those in Bogotá.
We encourage the international community to continue to pay attention to new and existing risks faced by girls, boys, and adolescents which go on even after the conflict. Monitoring by both parties of the agreement is necessary to release these recruited minors.