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Girl Child Soldiers

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Taylor Chapman

on 21 February 2016

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Transcript of Girl Child Soldiers

The Representation of Girl Child Soldiers and Formerly Abducted Women
The Issue:
As soldiers, girls are forced into
"frontline duties including [being used] as fighters but they may also be used in other roles such as porters, couriers, spies, guards, suicide bombers or human shields, or to perform domestic duties such as cooking and cleaning.

[Girls] are especially vulnerable to sexual violence."


Additionally, most people would assume that escaping the bush and returning to their communities would automatically improve girls' lives. However, women face far more stigmatization upon their return home than do their male counterparts.

By examining legal, theoretical, and cultural texts surrounding girl child soldiers, I will critically analyze the representation of girl child soldiers in the film "War Witch" and formerly abducted women in the multimedia project "Dwog Paco" to navigate narratives of romanticized girl suffering and Western paternalism.

The Legal Framework
The Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child

both lay out specific standards for how children (people under the age of 18) should be treated by society as a whole because of their "physical and mental immaturity."

Some of those standards are as follows:

CRC Article 7(1)
"...the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents."
CRC Article 3(1)
"...In all actions concerning children...the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."
"The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of fellow men."

The Theoretical Framework
Vanessa Pupavac's article "Misanthropy Without Borders" takes a critical look at the Children's Rights movement and how it manifests within the global South.

She writes
Although the child is treated as a rights-holder under the convention, the child is not regarded as the moral agent who determines those rights
(Pupavac, 99).

Evidence for this lies in Article 3 of the CRC. While other Articles state that children have a right to express themselves, the language used Article 3 is what is in
"the best interests of the child"

not necessarily what the child themselves want.

This language is intentional, and does the work of allowing organizations like the United Nations to decide how children should be treated. More specifically, it allows them to decide what is in the best interests of African countries which are infantilized by the West and seen as inherently parentless. Kathryn Mathers explains this in her article "Suffering Beauty: How to Save Africa without Changing It" by saying
"African challenges and African joys are often represented by children, and saving children has become the easiest way to help Africa."

The effect of this representation is that Westerners see themselves as humanitarian aid workers responsible for saving an Africa that is unable to save itself.
(Mathers, 176).
The Conclusion:
The representation of girl child soldiers is already limited, which makes it that much more imperative that further representation be accurate in its portrayal of what girl child soldiers and formerly abducted women want, feel, and think - rather than what others, specifically Westerners, feel is in their best interest. Likewise, the creation of global standards that specifically operate from a Western & globally Northern perspective is harmful to peoples and nations outside of those boundaries, and only serves to further disenfranchise them, while upholding biased ideas about the West being inherently better.

Ultimately, it is not the responsibility of the West and the global North to give voice to the East and the global South.
They already have voices.
It is our responsibility to listen.
Works Cited
Child Soldiers International UK. "About the Issues." Child Soldiers International. Accessed 16 November 2014. (http://www.child-soldiers.org/faq.php)
Ellison, Marc. "DWOG PACO: Reintegrating Female Former Child Soldiers in Northern Uganda." DWOG PACO. Web. Accessed 16 November 2014.(http://www.dwogpaco.com)
War Witch. Dir. Kim Nguyen. Tribeca Film, 2013. Netflix. Web. 16 November 2014.
Pupavac, Vanessa. 2001. “Misanthropy without Borders: The International Children’s Rights Regime.” Disasters 25 (2): 95-112.
Mathers, Kathryn. From "Travel, Humanitarianism, and Becoming American in Africa." New York: Palgrove, 2010.
UN General Assembly, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b38f0.html [accessed 17 November 2014]
UN General Assembly, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, 25 May 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47fdfb180.html [accessed 17 November 2014]
Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924, adopted Sept. 26, 1924, League of Nations O.J. Spec. Supp. 21, at 43 (1924).
Taylor Chapman

ENG 316
Human Rights in Literature and Film
Dr. Alexandra Moore
4 December 2014
The Argument
10 to 30 percent of all child soldiers are girls.
Both The Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child
operate through standards of childhood created by the global North.

Therefore, childhood in the global South is seen as illegitimate and organizations like the United Nations assert themselves as veritable parents of these continents and countries, specifically Africa.

As a result,
the global North and Western nations are inundated with feelings of Western paternalism
- or the idea that Westerners must become parent figures/saviors of Africa -
adopting these same feelings of needing to provide a kind of parenthood, or special care, for the "needy" and "dependent" South.

This idea is exaggerated when girls are introduced into the equation, because of
sexist ideas about girls' inherent weaknesses
, as well as the very real and
pervasive violences faced by girls and women in these countries on a daily basis
"War Witch"

is a film that focuses on

the life of Komona
, a girl who is forced to kill her parents before being kidnapped and forced into a rebel army in the Congo.

Komona is coveted by Great Tiger, the leader of the army she fights with, because of her special ability to see the spirits of the dead who warn her when danger is nearby.

Eventually, she escapes the army with a fellow fighter, Magician.
Feeling free from danger and fear, they fall in love and are married.
For awhile, they lead a perfectly normal life at their new home.

However, they are eventually found and attacked by their army. Magician is killed and Komona is forced to become a "bush wife" of one of the rebel leaders.

She eventually escapes for the second time. She is pregnant with a child conceived from rape, but will name the child Magician, after
the man she loved and her true husband
. The movie ends when she travels back home to give birth to her child and bury the clothes of her parents, in the hopes of
giving them eternal rest and bringing her peace of mind
The Importance of Genre
Although "War Witch" is classified as a drama, I am arguing that it functions as a romance. This is an important distinction to make because of the effect it has on representation. The majority of the movie focuses on the relationship between Komona and Magician, but is sandwiched directly between the most violent and horrific sections of the story.
Western paternalism is displayed through this film, written and directed by Kim Nguyen, a white Canadian man, and fosters feelings of sentimentality towards and a romanticization of girl suffering.

One scene that Westerners would directly identify with their paternalistic feelings is after Komona has murdered her parents and is being taught that now, her gun is her mother and father.
Looking at
Western Paternalism & Girl Suffering
This scene does the work of showing Komona as truly parentless and as being a child of violence. Westerners would most likely have a visceral reaction to this scene because
we "presume that abusive relations are common rather than the exception, and that policy should be based on the assumption of the prevalence of abuse"
(Pupavac, 100). Indeed, this scene and other scenes like it in the movie activates our inner "humanitarian aid worker" and makes us want to save the children in the movie, but especially Komona and Magician. (Mathers, 175).

This idea is taken further when we consider the fact that this movie functions as a romance.

Although we certainly wish to save Komona from violence, what we want more than that is to deliver her into the arms of Magician, her lover.

This does the work of reifying the Western idea that a girl should either belong to her parents or a man. In fact, in the scene where Komona kills her parents, there is some hesitation, but eventually she kills them. However, in the case of Magician, she flat out refuses to harm him, no matter what horrors may come.
The reason this representation is so harmful is because it falls directly back into the children's right problem -
instead of working from what Komona might want, it works from a Western idea of how the story could be most moving.
In other words, this film functions as what a Westerner might view as being in the best interest of the character Komona, rather than working from what an actual girl child soldier might do in those situations.

In effect,
the Western director becomes the agent of Komona's affairs
, while the audience is left wishing that Komona could have gotten what every girl is "supposed to" want -
her happily ever after
. Then
Komona is left to pick up the pieces.
More representation...
is a multimedia project by Marc Ellison that aims to document the reintegration of formerly abducted women / former girl child soldiers back into Northern Uganda.
The Importance of Genre...
Because we focused on the movie as a genre, it is important to do the same for this multimedia project in dissecting its messages.

Due to its use of interviews, sound bites, statistics, and images, for the purpose of this project, I will refer to
DWOG PACO as a documentary

An important fact of note is that
although the women featured in DWOG PACO were given cameras and were interviewed for videos as a means of generating content for the project, the majority of the website is written from Ellison's point of view.


of the pages on the website start with sentences including the words "me" or "I" though none of these sentences are written by the women in the project.
They are written by Marc Ellison, a white man based in Glasgow, Scotland.
Western Paternalism as Awareness
In fact, the "about" page itself is saturated with Ellison's voice, and indeed, a Western point of view.

On it, he writes things like "Mary doesn’t look like a child soldier. Go on,
prove me wrong.
" and "
I was adamant
that these women would have the opportunity to
tell their own stories.

And although there are quotes set aside on several pages from the women themselves, it is still Ellison who is doing most of the story-telling, not the women themselves.
Although Ellison does provide a place for women tell their stories, the tone of the project is very self-serving. A lot of it focuses on his emotions after hearing these women's stories.

We see this in the image above where Ellison writes "Janet’s account of how she was gang raped by soldiers
was shocking in its own right.
But it was
more so when I found out
that she was raped not by LRA rebels, but by UPDF soldiers."

By highlighting his feelings about Janet's story, he is allowing, encouraging even,
Westerners to empathize with his emotions
, rather than to engage directly with Janet's story. In this moment,
he becomes to mediator of her story
- the agent deciding on the moral affairs for the rights-holder.

Just as Nguyen does in "War Witch" and just as the UN does in the CRC,
the focus is on the best interest of the subject, rather than on what the subject themselves wants to convey.

This is an especially interesting moment within the project where Ellison has a moment of clarity about his privileged position in comparison to the women in the project.
He writes
"Once I had conducted the initial hour-long interviews with all 40 women,
I then chose the five
whose stories best represented the types of challenges all the women are facing. I had initially decided to not pay these five women for contributing to my research.
My naïve logic had been that they were already getting a free camera and I wanted them to talk to me for the right reasons. I quickly changed my mind.
These women were more than willing to give up a day’s work to talk to me, so I relented. I gave each of the five women the equivalent of a day’s toil in the heat-baked fields: just 2000 shillings or 80 cents."
This moment stands out to me because of the fact that he could have completely left it out. Indeed, it probably would have been better if he did...right?
Why let your audience know that you had a moment of ignorance?

The answer lies in the sentence after he admitted his mistake.
He says "I quickly changed my mind."
By presenting this moment to his audience, he is showing that he too was once an uninformed Westerner, having fallen victim to the idea that "we had already done enough for them." But, just as he "quickly changed his mind"
you too could eventually come to see the light...most likely with the help of his work.

It is also important to note that he is the one who gets to choose whic stories best represent these women, not the women themselves.

In this moment, the Western paternalism displayed is not only towards the women themselves by way of having his voice overshadow their own, but it's also a call to other Westerners to realize their mistakes and engage with the kind of work he is doing. Again, calling back to Mathers' critique of the image of Americans as "humanitarian aid workers" and Africans as needing to be saved
(Mathers, 176).

There are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world today.
(1) http://www.warchild.org.uk/issues/child-soldiers
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