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War Child - Have We Stopped Listening

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Child Soldiers In Africa -a forgotten generation.

Some stories are not always easy to hear but there is a necessity for them to be told. So in recognition of these children who are often abducted, hoodwinked or intimidated in to fighting, please listen.

We know of the atrocities which occur daily on African soil. We may even wonder how it is that such things as the genocide in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, the daily rape of women, Apartheid and other such tragedies can continue in the 21st century. Or, how such voices uttering the torment of entire nations can so simply be ignored or even silenced. Perhaps it is due to fear or just lack of interest. The 'if it's not happening in our own back yard, why should we care' mentality.

Many actually consider that Africa is a wilderness where there will never be peace. It is also deemed that Africa's children are doomed to live a pitiful existence on earth because it is their 'lot' in life. Up to half of the world's child soldiers are in Africa. Many of these children are abducted at ages as young as 10 or 11 years old, some even younger.

These facts have attracted international media headlines, but have overlooked just how many of these children are girls. They serve in different militaries or militias and some of their involvement may differ but they can easily describe their common suffering at the hands of these savage men. Not only does the practice of using girls in conflicts globally continue today, but so does the silence enshrouding this phenomena.

It has been some time since my visit to Kenya, but it is only now that I have felt able to write about my eye-opening experience.

In many countries families are left powerless as soldiers enter their villages and simply knock on doors telling mothers to give over their children or be shot,others are taken from the street never to be seen again. Soldiers immediately tell them that if they ever try to escape, not only will they be tortured and murdered, but so will members of their family and their village. This threat alone is usually enough to prevent those children, who might otherwise have considered it, from fleeing.

Witnesses reported to me that the children have been forced to kill someone just after being taken to the training camps. They recall their feeling of helplessness, how scared they were and the guilt which filled them even though they observed that anyone who refused to participate in the killings would also be persecuted then shot. A mere statistic.

The innocents of these internal wars are the children, their lives are destroyed before they have begun to live. A few that managed to make their way home were tracked down and forced to kill their parents, brothers, sisters, before being dragged back in to combat. Then there are those who manage to escape but are rejected by their villages for fear of acts of vengeance being taken upon the whole community. For the girls, they have to hide their past as they are often used as sex slaves which would disgrace their families. The physical and psychological impact to this forgotten army is huge.

Makene *, then 12 years old, was walking to get water when gunmen came for her. She was issued with a gun, brutally raped by the rebels, and used for sex daily. She knew that death was a small consequence if she tried to escape.

Somehow, summoning exceptional courage, Makene fled her captors, walking non- stop for 24 hours. Clearly traumatised, she shyly shows me her scars - shrapnel wounds, machete scars on her buttocks and raised lumps on her back and breasts from beatings with sticks.

As she opens up to me, I see nothing behind her eyes. For her, she says her life is over as she cannot shake the stigmatism of being a child soldier. I want to scream and shout on behalf of Makene and the thousands of others like her.

Have we stopped listening to the pleas and silent cries of Africa's children as they beg us to help? How long will governments ignore what is happening to our children, then act surprised when these same children are unable to build a future for themselves and their nations? Is it really such a shock that the youth of Africa learn to hate, find violence an answer to everything and feel utterly abandoned by the rest of the world?

Every child has the right to attend school and to live free from violence. To develop their potential and become the person that they want to be. ALL children, not just ours sitting comfortably in the western world.

Makene* her name has been changed to protect her identity .