When 16-year old Adama Drabo was hired as a cook in a nearby town in Mali, he didn’t question his employers, not with a promise of $200 a month and new clothes. But the clothes turned out to be a uniform; Adama unknowingly had been recruited in the conflict of his country as a child soldier.
He tried to return home, but was caught and handed over to the army. He was interrogated, abused and threatened, and spent four days in jail. International pressure over alleged summary executions by the army may have saved Adama’s life, but he is still being held at a prison in Sevare. Soldiers claim to be detaining him for his own protection.
An estimated 200 to 300 children are involved in the conflict in Mali. Adama’s story is too often the experience of children in conflict areas, but these are usually hard to verify especially in Mali where aid workers and journalists lack access. Some of these children are promised money, some are bought from their parent, and others are kidnapped or forcibly recruited.
The International Criminal Court statute prohibits the recruitment and use of child soldiers under the age of 15, and many countries, including Mali, have formally accepted a treaty that raises this age limit to 18. The situation in Mali has also been referred to the ICC. There has been success through the court system in prosecuting violators; last year Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was found guilty of enlisting and using child soldiers in hostilities.
Raising awareness around IHL, including the practice of recruiting and using children in war and the consequences of these practices, is part of the mandate of Red Cross.
February 12 is the International Day against Child Soldiers, and a host of resources as well as an educational module is available for educators who want to discuss this challenging and relevant issue in the classroom.
For more information, visit redcross.org/ihl.