The Pope's intention for December was "that the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over.."
It is estimated that over 300.000 children are currently fighting in wars or have recently been demobilised. At the same time, the number of children emerging from these traumatic circumstances has dramatically increased. Child soldiers are used in at least 18 countries around the world; More than 40% of the soldiers are girls.
Like adult soldiers those demobilised are traumatised and need rehabilitation before they can be integrated into their communities.
The use of children who have not yet attained any degree of maturity, moral, emotional, spiritual, or even physical, to engage in acts of violence that separate community from community reduces them to objects, taking away from them their humanity and radically limiting their chances of becoming humanised again.
The poet, William Wordsworth, once wrote, “The child is the father of the man.” Child soldiers pass on what they have been taught to see as a permissable way of living to their milieu and offspring. Violence breeds violence. The child soldier loses an innocence in rites of passage that destroy its growth into a human being bonded to others in mutual trust and love. Its identity is reduced to the weapon it holds and what replaces a desire for affection and comfort is an addiction to destruction as the expression of one’s self. Having discovered that its self-worth is recognized this way it in turn recognizes others that way.
But who recognizes the child as an instrument of destruction? The scandal of the child soldier indicates a deeper scandal, and one that is endemic in world culture and not reduced to 18 countries. The child soldier is one example of the larger scandal of child abuse, and that of an even larger scandal of the abuse of the innocent, the marginalised, the dispossessed, the anawim of the scriptures —the little ones of God — to whom God comes again and again.
It is the nature of evil to despoil innocence. It is the nature of God to nourish and protect it so that it matures to humanity. It is our call as companions of the Christ to live humanely and to show others how to do so. This December we celebrate a child who came into the world to show us how to overcome violence in our hearts, our communities, and our world. Christ comes to show us how to be human, to love Our God with all our being, and to love our neighbour as ourself. If we want to eliminate the scandal of child soldiers the world over, we would want to start where we are, with the violence against children in our own cultures, and with the violence against innocence within our own hearts.