by Roman Deckert (BITS / RIB)

Amongst the most horrible phenomena of our times is the problem of child soldiers. Yet only in recent years this issue has received increased attention. Books written by former child soldiers, journalistic reports about underage combatants and sex slaves in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Hollywood blockbusters like Blood Diamond have raised the interest of the western public. However, the complex backgrounds and inter-related root causes all too often get simplified to superficial explanations like ethnic conflicts.

It is all the more important that the book Kindersoldaten, neue Kriege und Gewaltmärkte (Child Soldiers, The New Wars and Economies of Violence) by Michael Pittwald, has now been published in a second and revised edition (Sozio-Publishing-Verlag, Belm-Vehrte, Germany – €24,90 – 142 pages) with a foreword by the veteran German peace researcher Dr Peter Lock. Pittwald, who holds a PhD in political science and is director of the Osnabrück based Institute for Practice Orientated Social Science & Consulting, has written no less than a classic work. It is to be hoped that not only experts but also a wider range of readers will take notice of it and that it will be translated from German into English.

The first part of the book comprises overviews of the international state of research, the factors of recruitment, the history of the phenomenon of child soldiers, the state of international law and the impact of economics and ideologies. The second part consists of an empirical field study about former child soldiers in Mozambique. The entire book is characterised by a profound contextualisation of the various aspects. At the same time it is easy to read from A to Z as well as user-friendly as a work of reference.

African child soldier with a Heckler & Koch G3

African child soldier with a Heckler & Koch G3

From the point of view of the German Action Network to Stop Small Arms (DAKS) it is particularly positive that the author attaches great importance to the central role of small arms. Although he argues that “the sheer existence of small arms is not a reason in itself for war or armed conflict”, he stresses that especially in developing countries “no wars could be waged for longer periods of time without such weapons”.

While many other reports only focus on the omnipresent Kalashnikov, it must be welcomed that Pittwald subjects the G3 assault rifle of German gun maker Heckler & Koch (H&K) to critical scrutiny as well. It is true that the Kalashnikov is the standard weapon of most child soldiers because of its lighter weight and robust design. But there is plenty of evidence that the G3 and its offspring HK33 are the second most common arms amongst child soldiers in many conflicts.

For instance, the best selling German rifle inspired the title of a report by Human Rights Watch about child soldiers in Burma: “My Gun was as tall as me”. The recent exhibition “Child Soldiers – Forced To Be Cruel!” by renowned photographers at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn includes pictures of underage rebels in Columbia with H&K rifles. Arms confiscated from the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army have given proof that the G3 is the number two weapon of that notoriously brutal militia.

This text is a translated and updated version of an article first published in the DAKS small arms newsletter, May 2008.

Roman Deckert is an arms analyst at the Berlin Information-Centre for Transatlantic Security (BITS) and Board Member of the Freiburg-based Armaments Information Office (RIB).


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