Find peace

On the occasion of World Children's Day, the Catholic relief organization missio called on this site for the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers. Worldwide, more than 250.000 children and teenagers used as soldiers. Almost one in two is a girl. Like China Keitetsi from Uganda, who described her experiences in the book "Tears Between Heaven and Earth".

Most child soldiers are on the African continent, but children are also abused as soldiers in Asia, the Middle East and in civil wars in Latin America. Many serve in militias as young as eight or nine, as well as in regular troops, and are often forced to endure horrific atrocities.According to a recent study conducted by child psychiatrists at the Outpatient Clinic for Refugee Children, a project of the Children for Tomorrow Foundation and the University Hospital Hamburg Eppendorf, with the support u.a. The results of a survey conducted by UNICEF in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo showed that more than one-third of the former child soldiers examined suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. 54 percent of the children surveyed said they had killed someone themselves.

The trauma of child soldiers Since 2001, with the support of UNICEF and other organizations worldwide, more than 95.000 boys and girls in crisis areas undergo special demobilization programs. Interviews conducted by Hamburg researchers with the support of UNICEF with 169 former child soldiers in Goma and Bukavu (Democratic Republic of Congo) and in Gulu (northern Uganda) show how stressful the experiences of these adolescents are: – The children, aged 15, had already served as soldiers for an average of more than three years. – 68 percent saw a child killed or wounded. – 57 percent of the children said they were forced to perform sexual acts. – 90 percent of the children surveyed had witnessed shootings. – 84 percent were severely beaten themselves. – 73 percent have had to fight. – 63 percent of children believed they would die of disease or hunger. In addition to these traumatic experiences, rejection by the population makes reintegration difficult. Neighbors and even relatives often accuse them of actual or alleged atrocities. At the same time, their survival strategies in war are no good for peace – children have often unlearned how to resolve conflicts peacefully. Out of hopelessness, therefore, many resign and allow themselves to be recruited again. Children with psychological symptoms as a result of recruitment are also less likely to reconcile with themselves and others after war. Programs for the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers that combine psychosocial and concrete practical assistance are therefore a crucial contribution to post-conflict peacebuilding.

"We need your help" The former child soldier China Keitetsi from Uganda was recruited at the age of nine. For more than ten years, the war and the world of soldiers were their home. After escaping to Denmark, she became the first child soldier to write down her dramatic experiences. In the book "Tears between Heaven and Earth," she describes how, even in the safety of Europe, she is repeatedly caught up in her traumatic experiences and has to fight to find her way back to life. "We need your help. Think of me as a child soldier, not a monster," writes China Keitetsi.The abuse of children as soldiers is one of the worst violations of human rights. But most former child soldiers can recover physically and psychologically if we give them the opportunity to come to terms with their experiences, go to school and learn a trade, according to UNICEF's experience. The organization works together with missio in the reintegration of child soldiers. "Child soldiers suffer from the crimes they were forced to commit. Without reconciliation with themselves and their fellow human beings, there can be no peace," said Father Josef Gerner, who has been helping former child soldiers in northern Uganda since the mid-1990s.

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