Featured Rescue: DenMeet Den, a former child soldier who was conscripted into a Burmese army when he was 3.
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Project: AK-47 is engaged in a multitude of projects in both hemispheres. We work hard to bring you as much up-to-date information about our efforts freeing child soldiers as possible, as well as what you can do to help. We are, however, working in regions where conflicts rage and information on children and projects is often highly sensitive.
Most of the hands-on work with child soldiers is in Africa because these children tend to be more accessible. Children hidden away from our eyes in the jungles of Asia and conflict zones of Latin America are just as in need of rescue, and it would be a tragic oversight not to strive for their freedom and safety as well.
As you join us in the fight to rescue girls and boys out of armed conflict, please know that we do our best to honor national governments and cultural or ethnic groups and sub-groups that may be opposed to those same governments. Our job is not to take sides, but rather to come alongside and serve. As we serve, we often find that the very children we really want to help are given to us voluntarily.
While browsing through the tabs above, you may find a country that especially moves your heart. But, whatever you do, don’t just cram a bunch of new information into your brain. Engage. Get involved. Give a little bit and get your friends to join the cause. It takes more than just us to create changes..
Mexico is a country on the edge. The Mexican government's attempt to depose the stronger drug cartels has shifted their balance of power, and splinter groups fragment out and continue to fight for new and lucrative territory. At the bottom of the struggle for money and power, however, it is often children who pay the price.
Mexico is a battleground North America cannot afford to ignore. The Mexican drug-funded gang wars have crossed into Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. Cartels even have drug trafficking routes that move from South America to West Africa, north to Spain and then on throughout Europe.
Based on our conversations with social workers in Mexico and border guards on the U.S./Mexico periphery, the situation is alarming. Drugs are crossing the U.S. border at increasing rates. Teenagers traffic drugs as “mules,” and are even armed with military-grade weapons to protect their “precious” goods. In the mountains, native and mestizo children are used to guard and harvest marijuana crops and are caught in cartel crossfire during harvest time.
In the city slums, children between six and ten years old are used as “hawks” to pedal information and conceal drug deals happening on street corners. As they mature, they are offered a sense of belonging within one of the various drug-addicted gangs that often act as hit men for cartels. The adolescents murder someone, the charges are quickly dropped, and once more they end up on the streets. Young girls, as the gangs have found, make particularly cruel and effective assassins, being able to access people and locations that males cannot.
We have programs that reach out to children like this before it is too late.
Project: AK-47 supports three minor league soccer (“futbol”) teams that represent a number of smaller grassroots, extra-curricular soccer programs for children at high risk of drug gang violence and cartel wars. Prevention is the best approach to any evil. You can be a part of the Project: AK-47 community by taking on a project in Mexico, wearing a child soldier’s dog tags, or making a donation today.
Burma (Myanmar) is a country about the size of the state of Texas. Beautiful tropical coastlines contrast with Burma’s majestic snowcapped peaks, which are part of the Himalayan range. Burma is ethnically diverse, with over 100 groups and sub-groups, and thousands of dialects. If you walked among these smiling and resilient people, it might be hard to imagine that the country has over 75,000 child soldiers—more than any other country in the world.
Though there are many critical issues that Burma faces because of its diversity and lack of centralized leadership, the dire matter that Project: AK-47 has in focus is liberating its many child soldiers. Project: AK-47 has successfully and diplomatically negotiated the release of nearly 200 child soldiers by providing needed services to local communities. We operate four children’s homes and run three schools in Burma, all which serve children in the middle of conflict zones.
There are many non-state armed groups (NASGs) in Burma reflecting the country’s diversity. Some of these groups, like the United Wa State Army (UWSP/UWSA), Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Shan State Army South (SSA-S) use child soldiers. The largest number of child soldiers, however, is thought to belong to the main branch of the Burmese military, the State Peace Development Council (SPDC), which enlists children under 18 for military service. The Watchlist for Children and Armed Conflict states that it is difficult for the international community to engage in this issue. Neighboring Asian countries in particular have opposed outside involvement in the low-level armed conflict between SPDC and ethnic minorities, believing it is Myanmar’s internal affair.
Most Burmese authorities on children in armed conflict say that the youngest confirmed age of a child soldier is 12. It is important to clarify, however, that we have reports of children as young as three years old living in military barracks and undergoing training, along with many confirmed reports of children of five to six years. It usually takes a boy of at least twelve years old to handle a weapon, but many cultures still believe that war is honorable and children are trained in their early developmental years as warriors – long before the age of 12.
Get involved with one of our projects below, or join our monthly giving campaign. Project: AK-47 is on the forefront of where other NGO’s find it difficult to go, doing the hard yet rewarding work of rescuing and caring for children that need agents of compassion to come to their aid.
The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict believes that three groups in the Philippines remain liable for children in war zones: The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the New People’s Army (NPA), and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). To this list, we would also add the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP -NPA) and “pangayao” tribal wars. Though it is not Project: AK-47’s intent to place blame in the existing fray, we do want you to be aware of the current reality.
The Philippines is a tropical archipelago of more than 7,000 beautiful islands and over 170 spoken languages. Even though the vast majority of Filipinos are peaceful, the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity can create long-term conflicts. Cycles of violence become established in many of the smaller tribal and clan-like groups because of the belief that conflicts are best resolved through vengeance.
Through careful conversations with former child soldiers and regional governmental authorities, one thing has become obvious: there are probably thousands more child soldiers in the Philippines than what is currently believed. The situation is critical. Children are at risk not only of death or injury, but also of being locked into deadly cycles of generational violence.
“We still live in a world with those who would use children as spies, soldiers, and human shields,” says Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. “The shifting nature of conflict has put many children on the front lines. Too often, children become collateral damage during military operations…let us remember that we must protect the most innocent and most vulnerable.”
Project: AK-47 works alongside various ethnic groups to help bring children out of armed conflict. Our ground zero projects serve through education, community development, vocational training and brave love to bring children out of conflict zones and into lifestyles that move beyond blood feuds and hatred. We currently have over 30 rescued Filipino child soldiers in our care.
Sri Lanka is a large island off the coast of India. It is a tantalizing culture, full of colorful clothing, spicy foods, and passionate people. For 26 years, the Tamils and the Singhalese fought a civil war that finally ended in 2009. The As many desperate resistance fighters do, the Tamils resorted to every possible tactic, including the use of child soldiers.
Though the government has released over 500 former child soldiers from rehabilitation since May of 2010, there are likely several thousand children who never went through the rehab program who are in hiding or merged into the general population. Even more disconcerting is the word from our partners on the ground that soldiers have raped over 10,000 young women since 2009. The cultural humiliation and resulting economic destitution of these young girls is a heartbreaking injustice.
While there are some armed groups that refuse to use women or girls for conflict, this is usually a cultural preference. In many of our project locations, such as areas in Burma or the Philippines as well as Sri Lanka, girls are one of our primary rescue targets. In some cases, there is less likelihood of girls being used for combat; however, the forced servitude and chances of rape and sexual abuse are extremely high. In the case of Sri Lanka, instances of rape became most prevalent postwar as Singhalese soldiers "took revenge” on female Tamil Tiger soldiers. As with most countries, the leaders managing the crisis at the top levels of leadership are often at a loss to control every tragic situation or misuse of power beneath them.
Now is the time to join our ranks and help us support the brave workers on the ground who are caring for 20 former child soldiers and children torn by war, as well as giving hope to victims of rape. Our job as champions of peace is not to fight with governments but to stand strong, doing everything possible to heal the wounds of war and give children a chance to grow up in a safe, loving environment.
These children walked 30 kilometers to beg us to build them a school so they could be students instead of child soldiers.
Our second water filtration kiosk in Mexico will provide water to communities while generating at least $10,000 in profits every year for resuce and rehab projects.