Child Soldiers

As I work with Heritage on writing his story, I notice that there are many things that are too difficult for Heritage to describe.  That is why I am going to provide some information on what can happen to a boy who is forced to be a soldier.  Most of my information comes for the book, "They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children," a chilling account of the author, Romeo Dallaire's work to eradicate the use of child soldiers.  Maybe, as Heritage and I work together, he will provide his own account.  But, I know from the few conversations we have had about this time in his life that this is a very, very difficult subject for him and it transports him back to this dark time in his life.  He once said to me, "When I talk about being a child soldier, I become that soldier again for the day."

Child soldiers are cheap expendable weapons in the eyes of the adults who exploit them.  They are big enough to carry a gun or machete.  They can be manipulated easily.  Child soldiers are used as bait for ambushes.  They are heavy enough to trip a land mine so the adult soldiers can proceed safely afterwards.  Children are kidnapped from the countryside and schools.  In other instances, they are sold by their parents to the rebels.  They are transported away from the areas they know.  They are hit by the soldiers.  They are left in the cold with nothing to protect them from the elements.  Food and water is withheld to increase the fear and desperation. 

The children are given drugs:  marijuana, hashish, alcohol, cocaine, all to alter the child's perception of the situation and to begin to indoctrinate them into becoming soldiers themselves.  The drugs are also used to get a child to commit their first act of violence so that once it is complete, the child has no way of turning back the hands of time.  They are now soldiers.  The young soldiers are taught to treat thier rifles like their best friends:  eat with it, sleep with it, and never let it out of your sight.  Just to drop it would instigate a beating.  The olders soldiers, just teenagers themselves would spend time building up the confidence in the younger boys by spending time with them, convincing them that what was happening to them was the right thing, making them believe that they were a family.  The children learn quickly to follow orders.  Following orders means less beatings and more drugs.

          "I think I killed him,"  I shouted, and I began sobbing and could not catch my breath as tears gushed out of my eyes like blood.  I struggled to breathe throught my cries.  There was some sympathy in the faces around me, and a last one of the older ones said, "The first is the hardest.  You want the ground to open up and swallow you afterwards.  You do not want to go on.  The second time, you wait to feel that bad again, but you do not, and you hate yourself for that.  By the third time, you are curious to see what happens." 
          We smoked marijuana late into the night, and I thought, for me there is no home world.  All I have now is this.  Kill or be killed.  Teach the others to become just like me, so I won't be the only one.

(excerpt from "They Fight Like Soldiers They Die Like Children" Dallaire, 2010

As I was reading this account in Dallaire's book, I began to cry.  I cried for the boys and girls that have endured this abuse, and for those currently involved in this kind of slavery.  I cried for Heritage.  No wonder this is hard to talk about.  It is human nature to lock such darkness away and not speak of it.