This paper argues that the issue of children should be addressed through domestic legislation and international treaties the country is a signatory to.
Libyan Civil Ware and the Plight of Children
The Issue of Child Soldiers from Historical Perspective:
Jean-Hervé Jézéquel (2006) opined that a historical approach, unlike a problem-solving perspective, tends to be static by taking the world as a given and reifies existing distribution of power.
This ensures relativising the allegedly unique aspects of the African conflicts and emphasizing, unfortunately, the tragic ordinariness of the instrumentalisation of children in war. This takes us to the critiques of the existing knowledge that based the plight of children on Roméo Dallaire’s (2010) discussion. He reduced them to the status of miners working in diamond mines, used to sustain the supply of weaponry sustain the war efforts.
He describes girls as greater asset, as they can do everything that boys can do, and much more. “They set up bivouacs, prepare the food, control the younger children and are used as sex slaves and bush wives.” Equally germane in this discussion is the need to trace the historic antecedents of child soldier in Africa and the international protocols that Libya has been a signatory to.
The issue of age group and their responsibilities in African society is different from that used western societies. The role/s of a child in a society should not be perceived as ‘a singular phenomenon’ in Africa.
For instance, child soldiers were extensively used during WWII and the French colonialists took some children of local leaders and sent them to the “School of Hostage”. Except for Russia, all the permanent UNSCs have not incorporated legislation prohibiting the use of child soldiers under the age of 18.
Thirteen of the nineteen NATO states, as of 2002, allowed recruitment of children under 18 into their armed forces despite the Graça Machel report of 1996. As much as Bennet argues for the need to abide by the humanitarian intention of the West to release children from war, his position was not based on primary source.
The Mau-Mau revolt in Kenya during the decolonization struggle used children for information gathering, spies, cooking and sometimes engaged in armed combat against British colonialist. This eventually led to the liberation of the state from the colonial rule of United Kingdom.
Demarcation between the responsibility of adults and children may be difficult to determine because the latter are not simply a biological group but a social group whose history and experience differ according to their environmental factor.
During the era of the slave trade, children were transported in large numbers to the New World. The same (environmental factor) made African societies employ the services of their children in farming and selling unlike what is acceptable in Europe.
NATO’s R2P, which inflicted displacement, maiming and killing several children during the war needs further interrogation because the other aspects of humanitarian intervention of reconstruction and development are left unaddressed.
Some scholars observed that, unlike adult mercenaries, fighting wars with scare resource conditions could have encouraged the enlistment of children as soldiers. They stated further that they were “perceived to be the best fighters, obedient and easily manipulated… (they) are not to be paid, and they followed orders better than adults.
They ‘do not feel fear due to a lack of awareness’. Ease in training on how to handle small arms and light weapons (SALW) within days also explains the need for child soldiers.
Impacts of the War on Children
The above discussions explain why in Misrata, seven year old children were spotted with automatic weapons and were trained to clean and operate firearms despite the ACRWC’s Article 15(1) and Article 22(2).
This group of children’s participation was voluntary on the side of the National Transitional Council (NTC) due of limited access to social benefits in schools and hospitals and high rate of unemployment, estimated to be 30 per cent as of early 2011.
Another explanation is the need to liberate their tribe from Al-Qaddafi’s tribal politics. Some of the Berber children who joined the NTC forces were later discriminated against after the war as the new government accused their parents of being Al-Qaddafi mercenaries, spreading HIV, public drunkenness and witchcraft.
Children most affected were those born out of wedlock because they were ill-treated together with the disabled who should have been protected by Article 9 No.5 of the Child Protection Act of 1997.
Most girls engaged in soldering ended up as “fighters but are often the victims of severe sexual abuse by men on their own side as well as their enemies. Children were sexually assaulted in front of their families and kept for days and raped. Other children reported that both NTC and government forces killed their fathers and raped women in front of their children.
Children who did not willingly participate in the war were kidnapped and forced to join army. Both NTC and Al-Qaddafi’s forces engaged in this act.
Children under NATO Military Assault
As much as the NATO and Qatar were said to have introduced professionalism in their aerial bombing, based on the contested UNSC Resolution 1973, operative paragraphs, report of missed targets and missiles landing in schools, hospitals and mosques were widely reported but denied, expectedly by Western media and the NATO member states.
The use of reconnaissance, intelligence and aerial bombing raids did not bring about a clinical war against the government. The West believes that the war in Libya received legitimacy on the basis of UNSC Resolutions 1970 and 1973 as well as the endorsement by the Arab league and popularity from civil society organizations.Some scholars have suggested that the question, however, is whether NATO military campaign did act beyond UNSC resolutions?
Perhaps because of the need to control the state’s fossil fuel in line with the Carter Doctrine that calls for military intervention, balancing against rogue states and countering violent extremists.
NATO military exercises also impacted the children from which they are not likely to recover soon. It could, therefore, be said that parties to the conflict did not observe Article 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, mostly on the issue of psychosocial distress.
Ethnic Dimension of the War and the Children Rights
Ethnic dimension of the war against the Amazigh (Berbers), Touaregs and Tubu/Tebu/Toubou (black Africans) populations who were humiliated by the Arabs despite their fluency in Arabic language is equally a major concern.
These tribes constitute about 10 per cent of the total population of the country and have a history of conflict with the Arabs who have been in the region since 642 AD. They have links with the neighboring states of Niger, Chad, and Mali with substantial number of them in ‘the southern oases of Sebha, Murzuk and Kafra.
The Berbers in Libya are qualified to be addressed as indigenous peoples according to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 169 Article 1(1)(a), Article 3(1), Aricle 4(1), Article 27(1&3) and the African Charter Article 17(1&3).
These could have contributed to their demands for equal rights and special rights for their own culture, language (Tamazight/Tifinagh), education and religion. This is a “Pareto superior to the status quo” . That is, an improvement in the state condition for some groups has no negative impact on others.
Despite their active participation in dislodging Al-Qaddafi, they were not included in the 31 members of the NTC and their language is not recognized in the new government.
These tribes refused to join the Libyan forces before the civil war. They were perceived as anti-Arab which may explain the pogrom against them in April 2012 when hundreds of them were massacred; girls and women gang-raped in Sebha. Children were not admitted in school as long as they carried Amazigh names. This is against the ACRWC Ar. 11(1, 2b, 3a-e) and African Charter Art. 17(3).
In the Nefusa Mountains, many of the families are currently headed by children before they attained adulthood. Many girls would end up in forced marriages to help cater for the debilitated parents and younger children.
Sowing the Seeds of Future Conflicts
The equality principle is the basic conditio sine qua non for adequate minority protection . According to the Compulsory Education Act No. 90 of 1975, education is made free for every child between the age of six and fifteen.
Despite this, refugees and minority children are not allowed to enjoy the same benefit, which is against the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Art. 29 &30 and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Art. 27.
Instead they pay higher fees compared to Arab children despite the state’s signatory to the Africa’s 1969 Convention Governing the Special Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, which accord the same rights of education the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
Ironically, Libya has not ratified this Convention despite the complementarity of the two on the principle of non-refoulement 8 and other related Rights of the Child.
On the issue of healthcare, it is stated in the Health Act No. 106 of 1973 that free health is a human right for all. Article 50 of the Act provides that healthcare is a matter of equality for all and this is supported by Article 4 of the Child Protection Act No.5 discussed above.
Unfortunately, this is not extended to the minority groups in Libya despite several international protocols that protect them from discrimination. Temporary constitution drafted after the war only mentioned in passing the Amazigh culture, which was considered to be a ploy to undermine them by the post-Al-Qaddafi government.
This may inspire another recruitment of terrorists in the area of which children will be the target; if not addressed in time it may further increase heinous activities of human rights abuses such as rape, forced prostitution, abduction, maiming and killing of innocent people by the child soldiers who “know nothing of Dunant’s codes of honor”.
Lere Amusan is professor of International Relations at the North West University in South Africa. He was educated at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Nigeria and received a doctorate at the University of South Africa in South Africa. He has written extensively in the fields of African politics, environmental politics and international economic relations. He is currently working on the politics of bio-piracy and its impacts on the developing areas.
Source: Journal of International Women’s Studies
Volume 14 – Issue 5 (Children and Arab Spring)