Child Soldiers

I read this article on MSNBC today. It is about the “child soldier” Omar Khadr who is under trail in the U.S. for terrorist acts.

Short history: Khadr was arrested when he was 15. He threw a hand grenade that killed a US soldier and injured several others (not sure about the exact numbers). Since his arrest, he has been at the controversial Guantanamo prison and is currently 23 years old.

The debate here is if he should be tried as a terrorist or should be considered a victim. The UN Human Rights laws state that child soldiers must be considered victims and not be tried for any crimes.

For most part, I do agree.

I also agree that children who grow up in conflict areas are perhaps more aware than a child who grows up in a ‘normal’ area. Of course, how skewed is their awareness is a point up for debate.

We have all heard stories of 9-10 year old kids being recruited for various terrorist organizations around the world. They are as potent and dangerous as an adult. Forget terrorism… when I was going Italy, I was warned of ‘child thieves.’

“Do not be taken in by the fact that they are children. They will knife you without hesitation” I was told. I didn’t really see any such evidence, so i refuse to believe a child of such horrors. But the fact remains that there are several thousands of children out there who are more aware of the world’s realities than me.

A 15-year old, by that standard, is perhaps an adult. Children these days mature a lot earlier than we did. The access they have to the resources and the media too sometimes, simply force them to grow up.

Khadr is perhaps a different case. But what about the millions of other children in his position out there?

As several readers of this blog will tell you, I am an optimist and when it comes to children, I do tend to hope for the best. So I hope that they can be rehabilitated, shown the other sides of the picture and allowed to make their own choice. And maybe one day, their various experiences will make them a better messenger of peace than we can ever be.

But the world is not so rosy. So, what then do we do with half-men like Khadr. In most cultures, guys are considered men pretty much from the age of 14. I am sure Khadr considered himself a man. I am not speaking about women here because I have no knowledge about their situation. But the men… what do we do with these half-grown children? True, we might look at them with tears in our eyes thinking about all the potential that was wasted. But Khadr – would he think the same way?

Who exactly would be a child soldier?

This also brings to mind the recent ads that are playing about South African diamonds. If you have caught it already… it shows two kids playing football with the goal being their guns jammed into the ground. The message is simple. Mining for diamonds in South Africa has ruined many children’s lives. Avoid diamonds it says. I guess the telecasters missed the irony of playing an ad of Aishwarya Rai’s Nakshatra diamonds right after that one.

Would anybody ever give up wearing diamonds? I don’t think so. I don’t think most people even think of South Africa when they are buying diamonds. I have never been attracted to diamonds… too cold, it seems. Rubies, pearls and emeralds. But not diamonds.

We do sympathise with the bigger picture but always miss the details that make up that picture.

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