Resource of the Week: Red Cross Week - The playground of war

Examine what life is like for children who are forced to be soldiers

What would it be like to live someone else's life? To be a child kidnapped from your home, forced into a war you do not understand and compelled to take up arms and fight?

Children's charity Unicef estimates that there are more than 300,000 child soldiers - boys and girls under the age of 18 - worldwide. Since December, an escalation in the conflict in the Central African Republic has led to more than 2,000 children being recruited into active combat.

About 40 per cent of the child soldiers are girls, often used as "wives" by adult male combatants. Other children are not forced to fight but are kept as porters, cooks and spies. According to the War Child charity, as part of their recruitment some children are forced to kill or maim a family member to shatter community bonds.

But how do you convey the horrors of such abuse to children who live more privileged lives?

TESConnect partner British Red Cross weaves together the personal and the political in a lesson on the issue, drawing on real-life examples to show how some armies and militias press-gang children into fighting. The lesson (find it at bit.lyBRCchildsoldier) asks students to imagine that they live in a part of the world where armed groups are at war; they have just learned of a plot to storm their house during the night and kidnap them or their younger brother.

The lesson can be used to develop students' speaking and listening skills - how would they describe their feelings? Are they powerless, confused, angry? Ask them to write about their feelings, then repeat the exercise from the points of view of their neighbour, brother and parents. Next, they have to decide what to do in a scheme designed to encourage deep, reflective learning.

To explore the issue further, ask students to consider the long-term impact on children who have been traumatised in this way. Research shows that the effects are felt long after the physical scars have healed. Many child soldiers are desensitised to violence and can be permanently psychologically damaged. Most have missed years of school and have limited prospects for the future.

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