Issue of Child Soldiers Claims Media Spotlight

19/03/2012 – Following the conviction of war criminal Thomas Lubanga, debate over the Kony 2012 film and South Sudan’s recommitment to removing child combatants from its ranks, child soldiers has been a hot topic of late.

Between the International Criminal Court’s inaugural conviction of Thomas Lubanga, the reception of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video and South Sudan’s promise to release child soldiers within its ranks, it would seem that the issue of child soldiers has ruled the spotlight this past week.

Across the international community and in Uganda’s Oruchinga refugee camp, people have welcomed the guilty verdict the International Criminal Court (ICC) bestowed against Lubanga on March 14. Among his charges are conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and forcing them to partake in the hostilities—a violation of international human rights law.

Lubanga hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he led the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC). Among the denizens of the Oruchinga camp are survivors of attacks by Lubanga’s forces, children who watched their family members raped or brutalized by rebels.

Oruchinga residents expect that the ICC verdict will have a positive response on political situation in the region—that Lubanga’s fate will deter other militia leaders from recruiting children and will shine a compassionate light on the hardship of life as a refugee.
“In this age of global media, today’s verdict will reach warlords and commanders across the world and serve as a strong deterrent,” said United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

In fact, it is through social media that child rights group, Invisible Children, hopes to mobilize the world to demand the capture of Joseph Kony. The Ugandan leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army was indicted by the ICC about seven years ago for using child soldiers. Kony remains elusive, not actually operating in Uganda right now.

But, Kony 2012 has been met with much criticism, revolving mostly around the role of the US military in central Africa, the film’s simplification of the conflict and some factual misrepresentations. On the other hand, the film has the potential to inspire millions of people to be human rights advocates and better-informed global citizens.

The stress of the criticism has taken a toll on filmmaker Jason Russell, who was hospitalized after being found yelling and running a San Diego street naked, allegedly performing a sex act last week. Exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition are reportedly to blame.

“Because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal and Jason took them very hard,” said his wife, Danica, in a statement.

According to the group, Child Soldiers International, child soldier use is reported in 25 different countries, including Uganda and South Sudan. South Sudan’s Sudan People's Liberation Army has reiterated pledges to release children from its ranks, but this time as a national armed force.

So far, since the end of the civil war in 2005, 3,000 of them have been demobilized. Providing children with the education, health care and psychosocial they need upon entering civilian life can be an exceptional challenge. Ms. Coomaraswamy has suggested that education be made a budget priority.