Jimmie Briggs is an American freelance journalist and teacher. He was awarded the John Battlow award from Northwestern University for a story about the Gulf War's impact on children, which became a finalist for a National Magazine Award. He has also investigated the impact of war on children in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Congo, Uganda and Colombia. He has written for the New York Amsterdam News, The Village Voice, Emerge, Vibe, Life and The Crisis.
He is the author of "Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War", which is about children that have been forced to fight wars. Briggs has disputed the popular saying that the truth is the first casualty of war. He believes the first casualty of war is always the children. Young children are being used as soldiers, scouts, cooks and sexual servants in conflicts around the world. These conflicts are mostly third world countries where there is little or no enforcement of laws and the children are often fighting on both sides of the conflicts. The organization with the dubious distinction of having the youngest soldier, only five years old forced to fight with small arms is the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda led by Joseph Kony. Even the most intense media coverage of a war pays very little attention to the children who are affected. This includes those forced into combat as well as those that are wounded or killed as a result of collateral damage and those who suffer from malnutrition and lack of schooling and medical treatment.
Military commanders throughout the world are attracted to young soldiers for combat because they can easily be trained to carry out the most repulsive orders, they can be found in abundance when adult soldiers are scarce and they can be forced to fight for little or no pay. they often give them drugs to keep them dependent on their leaders and make them more susceptible to indoctrination by their leaders.
Most researchers into child soldiers, including Briggs and P. W. Singer, believe that the ones who should be held accountable for the crimes of children in war are the adults who force them into combat not the children, however the children do need to be reeducated properly until they can function normally in society. In many cases the people from the hometowns hold them accountable and don't want them to come back since they don't feel they can trust them. In some cases these children are held in the same prisons as adults and are subject to additional physical abuse and rape. In some cases when they are fighting for the resistance these child soldiers are labeled terrorists, This is less likely to happen if the child soldiers are fighting for the government in power. Sometimes they have been held for years without access to lawyers or trial including some child soldiers who were arrested for genocide in Rwanda. Under Rwanda law children under fourteen can't be tried however this wasn't strictly enforced partly because they didn't know how old the children were in some cases people lied about their age to get out in others children under fourteen were held anyway. Unlike South Africa Rwanda didn't have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to reveal the truth without prosecuting war criminals. P. W. Singer has concluded that this helped reduce the uses of child soldiers in South Africa; however it also left a lot of unemployed soldiers who were only trained for combat, some of these soldiers became mercenaries for hire and were later accused of additional war crimes.
Many of the conflicts involving children are motivated by class differences, business and drug interests. In many cases these wars are fought over resources like opium, coca, diamonds, oil and coltan. Religion is also a factor that motivates some of these conflict including the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. These religious institutions often push religious education in favor secular schools. Several humanitarians including Jimmie Briggs have expressed hope that the international community will help children who don't have proper schools. In Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has said there should be a separation between Madrasahs and schools.
Briggs believes that Global organizations such as the UN and countries like the USA can and should do more to address this concern. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has acknowledged that he should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support to stop the genocide in Rwanda. He also thinks Secretary-General Kofi Annan should have allowed peace keepers in. He has criticized the USA for not ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The USA is one of only two countries that failed to ratify this treaty, the other one is Somalia. He has also criticized the USA for withholding support for the International Criminal Court. The White House and leading members of United States Congress have resisted efforts to restrict the spread of small arms that help increase the use of child soldiers since they can be handled easily. The USA has been supplying to many of the countries that use child soldiers.
When ending wars it is important to address the concerns of these children otherwise they will be disruptive to the community and possibly increase the chance that order will break down and the breakout of war will happen again. the availability of child soldiers often increases the chance that wars will break out and that they will last longer. It is important that these children are given the proper treatment in order to reintegrate back into society. This involves close contact with case workers and individual case files to help keep track of their progress.
- Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
- P. W. Singer, investigator and author of Children at War
- Children of War - documentary film by Bryan Single
- P. W. Singer Children at War, p. 20; 2nd youngest is 6 and 3rd is 8 investigation by Henric Haggstrom.
- P. W. Singer "Children at War"
- P. W. Singer "Corporate Warriors"
- Victoria Garcia, "U.S. Military Assistance to 1460 Report Countries: 1990-2005," Center for Defence Information, 4/12/2004