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AIDS, ORPHANS, TERRORISM - 2001-12-07


The impact of the AIDS pandemic may have long-term consequences for the war against terrorism. Some fear the millions of children left orphaned by the disease are potential recruits for criminal and terrorist organizations.

Most current estimates agree there are about 13-million AIDS orphans worldwide. But estimates vary greatly on the projected number of these orphans over the next 10 to 15 years. For example, UNAIDS – the U-N AIDS agency – puts the figure at 40-million. But some non-governmental organizations predict 100-million or more.

Olara Otunnu – the U-N Special Representative for Children and War – says no matter what the figure, the children are vulnerable to insurgents, criminals and terrorists. He says, "Both children who are exposed to HIV/AIDS and children who are deprived and are alienated from cannot attend school, feel hopeless, abandoned – they are potentially recruiting grounds for all manner of negative projects."

Rory Mungoven is the international coordinator for the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. He estimates there are more than 300-thousand children currently taking part in conflicts around the world. "Children who are outside of the normal family or community structures are most at risk - street children, orphans, children who are displaced as part of refugee movements. These are the recruiting grounds for many government forces, for many armed groups. To the degree that that population swells through the AIDS crisis, then obviously, this could have a flow-in impact in terms of the recruitment of children as soldiers."

Albina du Boisrouvray has long predicted AIDS orphans will number 100-million by the year 2010. She is the founder of the FXB Foundation, which cares for orphans around the world. Countess du Boisrouvray says Osama bin Laden has proven he can attract many recruits to his Al-Qaeda organization. She says these recruits may soon include AIDS orphans and street children. "We’re now, unfortunately, only one step away from seeing this happen. Children or orphans being taken off the streets where they’re trying to survive and being given – like they are in the armies of child soldiers – food, a roof over their heads, a Kalashnikov (automatic weapon) in their hands and being sent to do absolute horrors."

Ambassador Otunnu is critical of those who would put the world’s future – namely children – at risk. He says, "Anybody who says they are fighting for a better and new society – how can they do that by destroying the very future of that society represented by children? Children belong to schools, to their families, their villages not in battlefields."

Last May, a member of the National Intelligence Council – which advises the U-S intelligence community – warned of the impact of AIDS orphans. David Gordon spoke at the U-S Institute of Peace. "As we look out over time, we’re looking at the potential of millions, tens of millions of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, in fragile, poor societies, undergoing increased impoverization in a context in which access to weapons is increasing. And there are groups and individuals of various sorts interested and capable of taking advantage of this," he said.

At that same briefing, Mr. Gordon warned that more than a dozen countries and terrorist groups were pursuing biological warfare programs.

But why recruit the very young for crime or terrorism? Mr. Mungoven of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers explains, "It’s surprisingly difficult to condition anyone to violence, to unthinking obedience, to kill. You know, studies in military psychology show it is actually a very difficult process and that the younger you start someone the more chance you have of success."

Ms. Du Boisrouvray of FXB gives one example of a childhood turned violent. "I had knowledge of this little Sierra Leone boy who had started at eight years and at 14 had become general Shareblood, as he was called. And he sent out one of his young, little recruits of his 50 child soldiers that were under his orders, out every morning to kill a prisoner. Or if they didn’t have a prisoner at hand to kill a civilian – so that he could drink this person’s blood mixed with drugs. And that’s why he was called General Shareblood."

Despite stories like this one, Rory Mungoven says there is hope of rehabilitation. He says, "Child soldiers aren’t monsters. They’re children. For every child soldier there is a child. And one of the wonderful things that can be seen through the work of rehabilitation and recovering children after conflicts is the way in which these children, not only return to civilian life, but in fact become real champions of peace and real leaders in their community."

The founder of the FXB Foundation believes there is a way to prevent AIDS orphans and street children from ever experiencing a life of violence. "First of all, she says, "give medicines to communities to keep parents alive, communities alive – to have somewhere where you can reel back large numbers of children. And then reel them back. Reel them back into families and societies that will bring them up. Give them access to education. Give them access to health care. Love them. Love them."

This year, the FXB Foundation collected 500-thousand petition signatures, calling on the U-N General Assembly to give AIDS orphans the highest priority.

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