2018 is 100 years since the end of the Great War. Nowadays, no one thinks sending children to war is a good thing. In fact more people think war itself is bad. But it was not always that way.
All the armies in the first Great War had child soldiers. Young boys and girls were hardly be stopped from enlisting. Recruiting Officers closed their eyes when young people under the required age of 18 years old showed up to volunteer. Child soldiers went to battle with regular soldiers and many did not return.
The truth is that children have been part of armies for thousands of years. They sometimes fought, or they were porters, spies, messengers and look outs; or they were human shields.
Since the 1970s, international laws have tried to stop children being involved in wars. Article 38 of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states,
“State parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities.”
But, people who are over the age of 15 but under the age of 18 can still volunteer to take part in combat as soldiers. Its hard to imagine how much people of this age know about living life, let alone taking it.
In recent times, child soldiers served in the Sierra Leone Civil war.
The Small Boys Unit (SBU) was a group of children who fought for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which wanted to overthrow the government and take control of the rich diamond mines.
In 1998, 25% of the soldiers fighting in Sierra Leone were under 18, and of those, half (50%) were abducted and over a quarter (28%) were under the age of 12. The war ended in January 2002.
There are around 300,000 children currently involved in armed forces or militias around the world.
Boys between 10 and 14 years old are most used because they are thought to be strong enough to carry weapons.
Momčilo Gavrić was the youngest soldier in the First World War. In August 1914, Austro-Hungarian soldiers killed his father, mother, grandmother, his three sisters, and four of his brothers. They also set his house on fire. That was the day his life changed forever. He found the Serbian army nearby, told them what had happened and lead the unit to where the Austro-Hungarian soldiers were.
His commander promoted him to the rank of Corporal by the age of 10 and later to Lance Sergeant. Eventually he went to England to finish his education at Henry Wreight school in Faversham, Kent.
In 1921, he went back to his country. He found his three surviving brothers. He died in 1993 at the grand old age of 93.
In 1942, Seaman Calvin Graham was decorated for valor in battle. His mother found out where he’d been and told everyone his secret. He was only 12 years old.
Calvin Graham was 11, from Crockett, Texas, when he decided to lie about his age and join the Navy. One of seven children living at home with an abusive stepfather, he and an older brother moved into a cheap rooming house.
Calvin sold newspapers and delivered telegrams on weekends and after school. Even though he moved out, his mother would occasionally visit.
The country was at war. Being around newspapers he had the opportunity to keep up on events overseas.
In Colombia, guerrillas brainwashed a 12-year-old girl and turned her into an informant. Yineth Trujillo was a child soldier with the FARC guerrillas for five years. FARC in Spanish, stands for Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionaries de Colombia (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and was a military organisation fighting 1964 to 2017.
“They gave the boys lots of training in handling explosives and me in intelligence gathering,” she recalls. “A little girl can transport money, weapons, drugs much more easily.”
She had a harrowing and tough time with the rebels.
Will wars ever end? There will be many celebrations to mark the 100 years since the end of the Great War, but we must remember that a few years after 1918 there was another World War. Many lives were turned upside down, many lives were also lost.