Defending Children’s Rights

Thousands of children are serving as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. These boys and girls, some as young as 8 years old, serve in government forces and armed opposition groups. They may fight on the front lines, participate in suicide missions, and act as spies, messengers, or lookouts. Girls may be forced into sexual slavery. Many are abducted or recruited by force, while others join out of desperation, believing that armed groups offer their best chance for survival.

The war in Mozambique (1985-1992) left 250,000 children displaced and 200,000 orphaned, while tens of thousands more were forcibly recruited and put into combat. Despite the war’s conflict between government forces and guerrillas, combat was waged almost exclusively against unarmed civilians. By the end of 1987, UNICEF estimated, 250,000 children had been orphaned or separated from their families. A high percentage of children were involved in the war as active combatants, forcibly trained and forcibly engaged in fighting.

During the war in Mozambique, Abubacar Sultan, along with Save the Children, were left with the mission of helping the children leave the war areas and return to their families. They went into the war zones every day, documented as many children as possible, and tried to trace them to communities of displaced people inside the country and to refugee camps in neighboring countries: “Whenever possible we took children to safer environments.”

In this lesson, students will learn about why children are targeted for combat, assess the effects on child soldiers, and find out how to defend the rights of children. After reading an interview with Abubacar Sultan taken from Kerry Kennedy’s book “Speak Truth to Power” and gathering knowledge about the realities of child soldiers, students will engage in activities that emphasize the importance of individual and collective action when addressing human rights abuses.

Abubacar Sultan is an educator and advocate for the lives of children. Believer in the resilience of all people, even those who have faced the most difficult circumstances. In 1988, Sultan started the Children and War Project, aimed at saving thousands of these traumatized youths.

Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates.