Poor Children: Child Witches and Child Soldiers in Sub-Saharan Africa
59 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2005
This paper, written for a symposium on The Mind of a Child, examines two different aspects of the accountability of children: those children who are thrown away by their families because they are sorcerers, and those children who become soldiers and, through their involvement in armed conflict, inflict violence and death on others, including children. Like all other children, both sets of children are especially vulnerable because of their developmental (im)maturity. Indeed, as policy-makers struggle to develop strategies for responding to the needs of these children, the new neuroscientific literature provides yet another basis for arguing that children must be treated differently from adults. This paper discusses the promises and limitations of concepts of children's rights and the importance of creating local, national, and international responsibilities to care for the poor children in these contexts. The paper suggests a conceptual shift in thinking about children in the international context. Rather than focus on the paradigmatic triangle of parents, children, and the state when considering rights and responsibilities, I argue that we must think of a rectangular pyramid that places children at the top, but has a base that includes family, state, international actors, and, as the final point, civil society and other non-governmental actors. Unlike the situation in most developed countries, the main actor in many developing countries is not the government, but non-governmental organizations and the aid community. Civil society organizations are highly relevant to discussions of how to advance children's rights in developing countries. When governments are not democracies, and are not accountable to their citizens, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international, multilateral organizations and institutions represent possible sources of change because they function outside of the state bureaucracy. Civil society groups play multiple roles in both developed and developing countries. This article articulates principles for a child-centered approach to justice using what I have referred to as social services justice. Social services justice focuses not on punishment and retribution but rather on the social, economic, medical, and psychological components of providing justice. This approach is particularly well-suited to juveniles because it takes psychological and developmental needs into account and recognizes that the formal mechanisms of the legal system cannot fully provide justice on their own terms. This article first explains the differing phenomena of child sorcerers and child soldiers. Next, the article turns to a brief survey of the neuroscientific literature on the development of children, which reinforces the vulnerable nature of children who become sorcerers and soldiers. The article argues that the neuroscientific literature provides two insights. First, it sheds light on concepts of culpability for children recruited as soldiers; second it provides additional support for responding to the nurturance needs of child sorcerers and highlights the particularly destructive nature of banishing them from their homes. The article then provides a fuller discussion of the principles that should guide a response to these issues. Finally, the article provides specific recommendations for an approach that recognizes the developmental (im)maturity of children by placing both types of children within their social and community contexts.
Keywords: Children's rights, international law, law and development
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