Help restore their futures
According to official estimates, as many as 250,000 girls and boys under the age of 18 are forced to serve as armed militants around the world including Colombia, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and close to a dozen other countries on the United Nations’ “List of Shame.” In stark contrast to the developed nations where such practices are outlawed, commanders in these countries take great care to avoid responsibility for enlisting children, and are rarely held accountable — with devastating consequences.
Recruited under false pretenses from situations of adversity — such as poverty, domestic abuse, neglect, homelessness or death of a parent — these children are easy to manipulate, inexpensive to feed, and simple to replace. Once absorbed into the ranks of war, they are stripped of their basic human rights and condemned to relentless assaults on their dignity.
“They make perfect soldiers,” explains James Areiza, coordinator of protection and prevention programs at Ciudad Don Bosco in Medellin, Colombia. “Their commanders only need to say, ‘If you don’t do what I tell you, you’re dead, and your family is dead.’ When they arrive here, we don’t see free human beings. We see humans in chains.”
During the past 18 years at Ciudad Don Bosco alone, Salesian missionaries have rescued and rehabilitated 2,400 girls and boys victimized by their country’s brutal civil war. Through a holistic approach — psychological counseling, remedial education, job-skills training, reintegration programs and family reunification, when possible — missionaries equip former child soldiers with the resources, skills and confidence they need to reclaim their futures.
Photo credit: Matthew Pirrall