The United Nations estimates that more than 250,000 children serve as soldiers in conflicts worldwide. Most do not volunteer— they are abducted or otherwise forced to serve. Poverty forces others to take up arms. While fighting, these children are deprived access to education and health care and may be physically or sexually abused. Human-rights groups struggle to help former child soldiers return to their families and communities and school. In his book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah of Sierra Leone writes of being forced to take up an AK-47 by his government at age 12 to fight in its civil war, and how, fueled by drugs, he learned to kill. He writes of mass murders: “We walked around the village and killed everyone who came out of the houses and huts.”
Eventually rescued by Unicef workers, Beah went on to speak before the United Nations, move to the United States, graduate from Oberlin College and become an advocate for former child soldiers. His straightforward, harrowing autobiography has become an international phenomenon credited with bringing new attention to the plight of child soldiers in Africa.
Last week we asked for your views on selective service and what you would do if you were in charge of recruitment for the armed forces. Have your views changed after reading about child soldiers forced to serve in conflicts around the world? How could the U.S. or the UN help? How would you feel if, like Beah, you were forced to kill for your government at age 12?