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Some ways to help

by Steve Schwartz, USA

We must address the root causes of any problem if we want to eradicate it

Relief and development agencies play an essential role in protecting children from exploitation. Unfortunately, big business is not always averse to taking advantage of children for use in sweatshops and prostitution. Governments are often overburdened with the problem of simply remaining in power, such as in Somalia, or are power-hungry and promote outdated paternalistic societies, as in China, Cuba and, as some allege, the United States. Because it is often difficult for individuals in the developed nations to directly provide assistance, public information campaigns such as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines are very effective at implementing change. Relief and developing agencies can lobby governments and bring about progress.

The use of child soldiers is an example of the way that children are exploited. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 300,000 child soldiers around the world today (http://www.unhcr.ch/children/glance.html). It may seem as if there is no way to protect isolated villages from the gangs of roving soldiers who kidnap children, kill their parents and force them into combat. Teaching villages ways to protect themselves from the recruiters physically is one way to prevent this. Children must be taught what to do if they are kidnapped, how they can reason with the kidnappers, if possible, and ways to escape. After the fact, once children escape or are let free somehow, they must be cared for. The trauma that these children face has devastating effects; these effects must be minimized.

Terrorism is not merely flying planes into buildings or attempting to explode a "dirty bomb." It is simply using force to coerce a people or a nation to submit to their will. Those who recruit child soldiers could be classified as terrorists. Not only do we need to help their victims, but we need to prevent the recruitment of ordinary youths to terrorist groups. Mass propaganda campaigns such as the ones carried out by the United States military are not effective because they do not address the root causes of the problem. Wherever there are terrorist training and recruiting camps, such as the ones in Palestinian refugee camps, there is a shortage of supplies. Food and medical care are not adequately provided. Poverty is rampant. When people do not have enough resources, they look for the easy way out. We must address the root causes of any problem if we want to eradicate it. It is a human rights issue, as well as a childs' rights issue. Children should not be exposed to the violent ideologies of fundamentalism, nor should they be encouraged to attack other children, whether it be bombings or rock throwing.

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Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002

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