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The Team





When Our Children Fight, We Have to Make A Difference


"The army was a nightmare. We suffered greatly from the cruel treatment we received. We were constantly beaten, mostly for no reason at all, just to keep us in a state of terror. I still have a scar on my lip and sharp pains in my stomach from being brutally kicked by the older soldiers. The food was scarce, and they made us walk with heavy loads, much too heavy for our small and malnourished bodies. They forced me to learn how to fight the enemy, in a war that I didn't understand why was being fought."

- Emilio, recruited by the Guatemalan army at age 1. Testimony given at a Congressional briefing on child soldiers, sponsored by Human Rights Watch, Washington DC, December 3, 1997.

War is always hard, but it is particularly cruel to young people who, like Emilio in the Guatemalan army, can't even understand what they are fighting for.

As many as 800,000 children under the age of 18 served in the American Civil War. Some were musicians, and some were captains who led troops straight into battle - even at the age of 13! But this did not just happen in history. Children are being increasingly swept up in the conflicts surrounding them, with devastating results. Today, children are directly involved in war all over the world. It is estimated that right now, at least 300,000 children are participating in armed conflicts in more than 30 countries.

There are lots of things going on that you can help out with. It's up to YOU to decide which you think is the most effective.

1) Support the ban on child soldiers. Lots of people at many important organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are trying to get a ban on the use of children as soldiers. They need YOU to send letters to support them!

Where does YOUR country stand?!? Click here to find out.

If you live in the United States, you can write a letter to the President , Secretary of Defense , First Lady or the Secretary of State to let them know how you feel about child soldiers, and the US role in blocking progress on the optional protocol. Urge them to support 18 as the minimum age for recruitment and participation in armed conflict. At a minimum, the US should not obstruct other countries' efforts to end the use of child soldiers.

As of December 13, 2000, these issues are still unresolved. Please send letters, but you may wish to check with Amnesty International to see what the current status is.

2) Raise awareness in the media. Write a letter to the editor, or an op-ed for your newspaper to express your concern about child soldiers, and voice your support for stronger international efforts and standards to prevent the recruitment of children into armed groups, and their use in armed conflict. See Human Rights Watch's January 8 Op-ed in the Washington Post as an example.

3) Campaign to help children in Uganda. For more information, visit the Human Rights Watch's special report on Uganda, and click on "Recommendations." They also have sample letters available. Be sure to check if there is a date they say you should stop writing so you know they still need your help.

The Team


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - Native Americans during the Civil War
Irene - Was the Civil War really about freedom
Nick - The bloodiest square mile in America
Stephanie - I'm nine but I can still fight!
Teddy - It's never enough to just get by