…Impunity Watch, “an interactive website that operates as a law review, message board, and blog”, recently interviewed Christine Williams, founder and executive director of CSR. Impunity Watch’s reporters hail from Syracuse University College of Law and work to inform the public of human rights abuses occurring throughout the world. The interview can be found in its original format here.
Christine Williams is a human rights blogger, whose website reports on the abuses that child soldiers face all over the world. The Impunity Watch got a chance to interview Williams about how she views the work that she is doing, the current state of child soldiers in the world and how her site will function moving into the future.
IW: Could you please describe your blog?
WILLIAMS: Childsoldierrelief.com is a clearinghouse for anything relating to child soldier issues worldwide. The blog disseminates information several times a week on developing news items, publications, recent legislation, new treaties, events, and relevant media, including feature films, books, documentaries, television shows.
In addition, it provides a forum for discussion relating to the topic of child soldiers. We receive comments, requests for information and regular visits from government agencies, non-governmental organizations, journalists, writers, educators, students, and former child soldiers, to name a few of our readers and contributors.
IW: Please articulate a brief history concerning child soldiers and their use in armed conflict?
WILLIAMS: Children have been used in warfare throughout history, not only as soldiers on the front line, but as spies, porters and sexual slaves. Cultural acceptance of children fighting alongside their families is still widespread in many nations, despite increased public awareness of child soldier issues and knowledge of the long-term ramifications of children engaging in warfare. Poverty and lack of opportunity directly contribute to children joining military organizations. Others are kidnapped and forced to fight – their being children reduces the likelihood that they will resist or escape. Furthermore, in recent history the ready availability of small arms has increased the number of child soldiers due to their lightweight nature and ease of operation.
According to the 1997 Capetown Principles, a child soldier is anyone under the age of 18, “who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage.”
For the last three decades, human rights organizations have pressured nations and armed groups to eliminate the use of child soldiers in their ranks, with only limited success. According to Human Rights Watch, there are still hundreds of thousands of children serving in military organizations throughout the world.
IW: Where are the major geographic areas that child soldiers are employed?
WILLIAMS: Child soldiers are used in practically every region of the world. Currently, there are child soldiers fighting in 17 countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Côte d?Ivoire, the DRC, India, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Myanmar, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda.
IW: What is the motivation to use child soldiers on the part of armed forces?
WILLIAMS: Due to the proliferation of small arms – and their ready availability worldwide – children can easily carry a weapon and be taught to operate it. Children respond to orders well, are very unlikely to escape and are easy to brainwash. Vast numbers of children in war-torn countries lack parental figures – many of them have been killed – and are seeking an authority figure. Other children are on the run, often hungry, without proper shelter or any economic opportunity, and the possibility of an adult providing food, direction, shelter is appealing. Sexual and physical abuse is rampant in many military and rebel organizations and easy to inflict on a child.
IW: What is the impact on the life of the child who is introduced into armed conflict?
WILLIAMS: More and more studies are being done on the impact of direct participation in armed conflict on children. This blog regularly posts new reports and research on psychological treatments, therapies, and programs for helping child soldiers recover. Mental health problems range from depression, to post-traumatic stress disorder, to anxiety, to insomnia, to name a few. Thankfully, children of war, both victims and direct participants, have been shown to be remarkably resilient. Many of them – with the proper treatment – have been successfully reintegrated into society and are able to continue on to a productive, peaceful adulthood.
IW: Why, in your opinion, is the recruitment and introduction of child soldiers into modern conflict such a pressing human rights issue?
WILLIAMS: Children are the innocent victims of war. At all costs, they should be protected from the effects of warfare. At the very least, they should be able to live a life free from any direct involvement in fighting. Public awareness of this issue, from the hard work of advocates at human rights organizations, governments, journalists, writers, filmmakers, and former child soldiers who have shown courage by telling their story, has finally increased to a point that people are outraged. The more people learn about the use of child soldiers, the more they want it stopped.
IW: What impact do you hope your blog will have on the international community?
WILLIAMS: There is no other blog like this on the Internet – one that combines news, ideas, a forum, and resources – all relating to the topic of child soldiers. So far, it has been used extensively by people involved in media, from journalists to filmmakers to writers, by educators and students, by people working in the field, and by former child soldiers.
Ultimately, the blog is designed to help child soldiers by providing awareness, resources, and open dialogue. First, the blog seeks to raise awareness by providing information for educators, students, human rights groups and the media. Second, the blog provides resources for those seeking treatment; we are in the process of listing treatment centers for child soldiers country-by-country throughout the world. Third, the blog encourages open dialogue, through an open forum, and an online database of stories that we are developing; we are currently working with several former child soldiers to have their stories posted on the blog.