This paper argues that the issue of children should be addressed through domestic legislation and international treaties the country is a signatory to.
The Arab Spring’s ripple effects on Libya led to the overthrow of Qaddafi’s government of over four decades. The regime change in Libya was not a smooth adventure. It led to a civil war, which impacted negatively on Libyan children.
The seeds of discord that this war sowed in the once considered stable state shall be the focus of this discussion through the employment of descriptive and analytical methods.
The contention of this study is that every actor in the civil war disregarded various international treaties that protect children and indigenous peoples during the war. This paper argues that the issue of children should be addressed through domestic legislation and international treaties the country is a
signatory to. Also important is the resolution of problems of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and reinsertion (DDRR) for a stable society in a divided post Qaddafi government where different militias are in control of the state.
The Arab Spring that emanated from Tunisia spread like a wild fire to the rest of the Arab World, but with different impacts on each state. The system of government that was put in place under the guise of Islam in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia was challenged by the youth who felt neglected by previous governments.
Problems such as unemployment, neglect of ethnic minority groups and the introduction of Islamic tenet in the governance of these states account for the ignition of the crises that consumed some states in the Maghreb and the Middle East.
Libya’s case is unique because of the special interest of the Great Powers in the state’s fossil fuel. Qaddafi’s neglect of the people of the eastern part of the state, explained why the war erupted from the region that eventually spread to the remaining two regions of the country. The warring parties forced school children to the battle field.
Qaddafi had to seek Touaregs assistance from Mali who, because of their economic plight had joined his forces in the war. Economic aid extended to the people of Tawergha (black population of about 30,000), a few kilometers away from Misrata by Qaddafi to the detriment of the people of Misratan made the city one of the targets of the anti-Qaddafi Misrata brigades.
The forces wiped out the people including women and children in a retaliatory measure. This was possible with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s military “catastrophic success” that killed women and children in hundreds through air raids.
NATO’s involvement in the war came from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions 1970 and 1973 of 2011 empowered the external forces to intervene in a war due to humanitarian concerns.
Children are the main victims of war because of their vulnerability to series of abuses during and after the war. The difference between child’ and ‘youth’ in the African context continues to remain blurred as the interpretation depends on “what they are able to do in the given context”
This brings the argument on the need to use children during crisis into focus. As much as some believe that it is the tradition of Africa to engage children in war, what comes to mind is whether this is not antithetical to the signing of several protocols that forbid child soldering.
This paper will examine the issue of child soldiering and ethnic discrimination with regards to access to education, healthcare and other social rights as Libya is a signatory to a series of global, continental and sub-regional international treaties based on child rights.
This study is an effort to link conflict to terrorism if Realpolitik is introduced against Idealpolitik. Effects of war lead to internally displaced children (IDC), refugee problems and its associated crises on ‘unaccompanied children’ such as malnutrition, sexual abuse, crises of education, and basic health care system.
The conscripts during the war in Libya were adolescents who were in their formative years. Child soldering exposed children, both boys and girls, to HIV/AIDS. This is against the international norms that protects the rights of children such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Thus international law, “is not good at providing corrective justice and thus is unlikely to resolve problems in a way that satisfies groups with historical grievances.”
Destruction of schools, killing of teachers, changing of school curriculum overnight in line with western educational system and the need to replace unavailable teachers are some of the challenges of the civil war in Libya.
The psychosocial effects of war on children, the stability of the state and the mistrust among the people merits further examination.
Children left by fighters from both sides faced series of challenges such as hunger and lack of care. Furthermore, prostitution by girls, and burglary by boys as a means of livelihood add to the challenge.
Another area of focus, of which many students of child soldering have left untouched, is the question of the future development of the state. Recruitment and use of child soldiers indicate that the generation that was supposed to ensure development is now lost through armed conflicts.
The frustration-aggression dynamic may eventually lead to further terrorism. The Internally displaced persons (IDPs) including children and those that turned refugees may find it difficult to reintegrate into the society in the post-war state building.
Children that were lucky not to be killed in the war are either permanently disabled or seriously injured. The hasty organization of elections in July 2012 instead of ensuring the rule of law was a palliative measure to the state’s stability. This explains the relapse of the war in some parts of the state.
Reintegration into society is a major problem in Libya because children forced into war as combatants may not be easily reintegrated into the normal society, as they have been exposed to violence.
International Initiatives against Child Soldiers
Various international conventions put the age of recruitment into armed forces at 18 years, to which Libya is a party to except for the Rome Stature of 2002 that did not impose a ‘straight-18’ ban. In 1993, Libya acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1959, 1989) that came into force in 1990, without any reservation.
The Convention protects children against discrimination and asserts their civil and political, economic, social, and cultural rights. In 2006, the country entered into two major Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) and on the Sale of Children in Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC).
Libya has acceded or ratified major United Nations conventions on human rights, namely: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1989), the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1989), and the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (2004).
Libya has signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) but has not ratified it. Libya is party to regional treaties. Libya has agreed to the ‘Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1990). As member of the African Union (AU), Libya has also ratified in July 1986, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
It also ratified/acceded to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) in 2000, the most important instrument for children’s rights within the AU human rights system.
At the theoretical level, Libya incorporated all the relevant optional protocols on the rights of children by 1997 through the parliamentary Act of the Rights of Children No. 5.
Also Articles 407 and 408 of Penal Code protect children against sexual harassment. In order to actualise this, a charitable organisation, Waatasemu Charity Association (WCA), was established to monitor these rights and receive complains from people.
Unfortunately, by 2003, the rights of the minorities (the vulnerable groups) and juvenile rights were not addressed by the government. Despite Libya’s legislative law that recognized universal basic education for all, access to education was based on geographical and identity considerations.
Historically, Al-Qaddafi considered Cyrenaica region as anti-government and, therefore, did not focus on their educational development unlike the other two regions of Fezzan and Tripolitania.
This would have contributed to the acceptance of the NTC in Benghazi. Since WCA was government sponsored, its impact on protecting girls from various forms of abuse could not be enforced. During the war, many girls, mostly from the minorities and immigrant children, as young as eight years suffered sexual assaults, rape including trafficking, economic exploitation and served as combatants.
This is against Article 15 of the Child Protection Act No.5 of 1997 that prohibits the employment of children in any economic productive sector than to receive education at school. Some of these migrants are Touaregs from Mali who volunteered as regular military forces in Libya; some were inducted into Libyan-sponsored Islamic legions who were active militants in Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan. Many of them are still in the oil sector in Libya.
Despite the incorporation of all the relevant international human rights conventions relating to discrimination against children, corporal punishment is still in place. Some of these Acts are Act No. 17 (1992) (provision against violence and abuse), the Penal Code (1953), Child protection Act (1997), and the Constitutional Proclamation and the Promotion of Freedom Act No. 20 (1991).
Like Qaddafi government, the new government has also failed to observe the Child rights and 1948 Universal Human Rights.
Lere Amusan is professor of International Relations at the North West University in South Africa.
Source: Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 14, No. 5