Singer143 However while most countries have become signatories to the growing

Singer143 however while most countries have become

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codify legal norms, and encourage states to implement such laws. (Singer:143) However, while most countries have become signatories to the growing number of covenants and treaties, there is no indication that acquiescence to these ethical norms has translated to a decrease in the use of child soldiers in practical terms (in fact, the numbers have gone up). 1 Such dismal outcomes have led scholars like Peter Singer to conclude that appealing to perpetrating groups on moral grounds will not work. He notes “child soldiering stems from a set of deliberate choices and strategies designed by leaders to gain from using children in war”(Singer:135), and therefore, one must seek to increase the political and economic costs of such infractions in order to force compliance with international standards. 1 It has been difficult for researchers to accurately report on the number of child soldiers used (in the past and present), but UNICEF’s 1996 The State of the World’s Children claims that there were 200,000 child soldiers in 1988; if this is compared to the generally accepted number of 300,000+ child soldiers recorded in 2004, we can posit there has been an increase in the phenomenon, despite numerous campaigns throughout the 1990s.
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One common means of enforcing compliance comes from outside pressure in the form of sanctions; suspension of military aid, weapons trading, asset freezing and/or travel bans are methods that can be employed to pressure groups that use children in their armies to change their practices. More specifically, targeting the illegal trade in light arms has been recognized as critical to stemming the participation of youth on the frontlines of civil conflicts. According to Senator Romeo Dallaire’s estimates, there are approximately 650 million light weapons in circulation around the world today, when a mere 80 million would suffice to arm every national army across the globe. With a six-fold surplus of small arms flowing freely, largely in the developing world, and obtainable for nominal prices, one can understand how AK-47s arrive so readily in the hands of children. Another important means of applying pressure on groups using child soldiers is to prosecute their leaders for such crimes. Recently, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (established in 2002) issued indictments for the crime of conscripting children under the age of fifteen during the country’s decade-long civil war. In 2006, the notorious warlord and ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, was indicted on charges that included enlisting children for the active participation in hostilities, when he aided and abetted the RUF rebel group in Sierra Leone. This is the first time that such charges have been brought to trial, and represents a credible warning to other leaders who continue to make use of child soldiers. Tough Challenges Ahead While international advocacy campaigns, economic sanctions and legal action can collectively work to make the use of child soldiers less attractive, one cannot neglect two major challenges that will inevitably stand in the way of halting this growing phenomenon. While the aforementioned measures generally focus on increasing the costs for leaders currently using child soldiers in their armies, they do not address the underlying causes of ongoing wars. Analogous to the phrase “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, if the
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basic socioeconomic causes of poverty, unemployment, poor education, malnourishment and disease are not addressed, wars will continue to be fought, and children will certainly be a part of this cyclical violence. Contrary to popular wisdom, nearly two out of every
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