This image is heartwarming and breaking at the same time. In Gauhati, India, children are protesting the violence that surrounds them by setting fire to their toy guns. The kids lit the blaze in response to the continuing violence in the Manipur region where at least 17 rebel groups have been fighting for autonomy. Nearly 5,000 people have been killed over the past 10 years.
The children gleefully threw their guns into a bonfire, most of them AK-47 and M-16 rifles and cheered as they were destroyed. Some of the children even wore placards reading, “We hate toy guns. We love football." The guns in India were toys — though some children shoulder real weapons in times of war. To see the light at the end of this tunnel, read more.
In a mixed but hopeful report released this week by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, in the past four years the use of children as soldiers has dropped from 27 percent in 2004 to 17 percent this year. It's not completely positive, however, as this trend could be a correlation resulting from ending conflicts altogether as opposed to the discontinuation of using children as soldiers.
The report also revealed a lack of programs aimed at assisting child warriors back into society. International donors have given millions to help adults following conflicts, but children are left out. Like this story: in the Central African Republic, some 7,500 soldiers were given money and training to help them integrate into society. Of the participants, only 26 were included — though they are believed to have made up a much larger portion of the soldiers. Girls might have it worst of all — those used in battle as soldiers, cooks and sexual slaves are even less likely to receive any assistance either from shame or because they have no weapons to provide at the end of the conflict.
Do the children burning their toy guns have the right idea? Is it tragic they have to do so at all? What should be done to help children who've fought in wars?