COMMUNITY THREAT: A parallel was drawn between child soldiers in Uganda and children under the control of gangsters on the Cape Flats at a dialogue on child soldiers at the University of Cape Town. Picture: Mlondolozi Mbolo
Cape Town - Calls for tougher sentences and imprisonment for children who commit murder were made at a dialogue on child soldiers at the University of Cape Town.

At the dialogue, a parallel was drawn between child soldiers in Uganda and children under the control of gangsters on the Cape Flats.

“We constantly try to deny the fact that there are child soldiers in the Western Cape. The meaning of child soldiers in our society is when children’s lives are disrupted by gangsters,” Maulana Rodrigues, a religious leader and founder of the Hanover Park Society, a local NGO, said.

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According to recent research conducted by UCT and Rodrigues, there are about 10000 children on the Cape Flats trapped in violent conflict.

The research indicates that in Athlone alone, the number of “child soldiers” dramatically increased from 450 to 500 this year. The study also reveals that 80% of children in Hanover Park are school dropouts - not only from high school but also from primary school.

“Myself and the professor conducted this study and did case studies. We uncovered that the youngest shooter or child trained to use a gun is 9 years old,” Rodrigues said.

There were no penalties that acted as a deterrent for minors who committed crime. “Juniors are being let go by the authorities, and unfortunately these children are just handed a gun,” Rodrigues said.

“In Uganda children as young as 5 years old are caught in a war and taught how to handle a gun. They are given political talks about the war and used for domestic use and escort services,” rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Sacred Heart Gulu in Uganda, Dr Jino Mwaka, said. Mwaka said some child soldiers were trained for combat in his country and controlled by warlords.

The most well-known warlord in Uganda is Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony has been accused by government organisations of ordering the abduction of children to become child soldiers and sex slaves. During his leadership of the group, more than 66000 children have become child soldiers.

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Kony attracted worldwide attention in 2012 when a 30-minute documentary, titled Kony 2012, was launched by filmmaker Jason Russell. The intention of the film was to increase US involvement in efforts to have Kony arrested.

“Abduction became a common tool for the Lord’s Resistance Army. They often found children who were abandoned or lost. They would be abducted in their villages during raids,” Mwaka said.

The Community Chest’s Titania Fernandez said tougher policies were needed to prevent children from being involved in crime. Community activist Roegshanda Pasco, who was not part of the dialogue, said in Manenberg, children as young as 8 years old were recruited by gangsters to sell drugs and to protect them.

“As a community worker it makes me angry because I have constantly asked for this problem to be addressed. Children killing children and children holding guns is something we see on a daily basis,” she said.

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Cape Argus