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Reporters on the Job

Young Guns: Staff writer Scott Baldauf says that he wasn't prepared for what he saw when rebels under the command of Gen. Laurent Nkunda in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) asked him and other reporters if they would like to see some prisoners of war (see story).

"We walked into a classroom and half of the soldiers in there were small, young teenagers," says Scott.

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Scott says he had thought about doing a story on child soldiers on this reporting trip to the DRC, but had thought he wouldn't come anywhere near any of them.

"I wasn't expecting to come upon them this way, as POWs. It was really sad to learn some of their stories. Fourteen-year-old Bahati Mugisha, whom I mention in the story, had never been to school, for example."

None of the young boys seemed to be hard-core soldiers. "We were told by UNICEF that kids are easily manipulated by messages about ethnic conflict, in response to which, they are told, they must defend their community," Scott says. "That message can give a young person an inflated sense of importance as well as adulthood, and draw them in. You hear the kids say this, and it is hard to listen to."

While officials have some sense of the toll of the phenomenon on boys, there is little information about what child recruitment does to girls.

"There are girls who are taken away to be bush 'wives' of commanders," Scott says. But unlike boys, the girls are never counted. "They are seen as property. Many of them will never be able to reintegrate because of the stigma of having been abused sexually. Few of the girls may feel they have the option to return to their communities, as the stigma of their situation will extend to their families. Also, they may have children who need care and may have no skills, so they are forced to stay put."

– Amelia Newcomb

Deputy World editor