Children lured as soldiers for gangs

At the public dialogue on child soldiers at UCT are, from left, Maulana Thohar Rodrigues, a religious leader in Hanover Park; Ayanda Mfazwe, community leader from Langa; Titania Fernandez, resources development manager at Community Chest; Prof Brian Williams, visiting professor in Peace, Mediation, Reconciliation and Labour Relations at the University of the Sacred Heart in Uganda; and Dr Jino Mwaka , rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Sacred Heart.

Philippi police fear that children are now being used to take the flak for adult crimes, including those committed by gangs in Hanover Park, because the law is more lenient on children.

This is after a 12-year-old boy was arrested for the illegal possession of a gun on Sunday May 13 at 9.30am.

Philippi police station spokesman, Captain Lance Goliath, said children taking the blame for adult crimes was not a common occurrence in the area but seemed to be spilling over from surrounding neighbourhoods.

He said gang members know that a child would get a lighter punishment.

Captain Goliath said members of the Metro police searched the 12-year-old boy on the corner of Surran Road and Helmans Walk in Hanover Park during patrols and found a 9mm Norinco Star pistol, loaded with ammunition in his possession.

“The serial number of the firearm is still intact and the police investigation continues around the ownership and origin of the gun. The suspect is due to appear in the Athlone Magistrate’s Court on a charges relating to the Firearms and Ammunition Act.

“The station commander Colonel Dennis Abels is urging the community of Hanover Park to come forward with information on crime and the perpetrators. Police have a reward system whereby good money is being rewarded for positive information supplied to police about crime which results in the successful arrest and prosecution of criminals. Police will continue working around the clock to apprehend the perpetrators of crime and bring them to book,” he said.

The recognition that children recruited into gangs are child soldiers was the topic of a public dialogue between academics, community leaders and NPOs at the University of Cape Town (UCT) two weeks ago.

In the South African context, a child soldier is any child under the age of 18 who is recruited from as young as 9 years old to engage in the illicit and unlawful activities of gangs or syndicate organisations.

They are armed by warlords to do their bidding against rival gangs.

According to Professor Brian Williams, visiting professor in Peace, Mediation, Reconciliation and Labour Relations at the University of the Sacred Heart in Uganda, there are an estimated 10 000 child soldiers on the Cape Flats.

Professor Williams has worked closely with Maulana Thohar Rodrigues, a religious leader in Hanover Park, and Magadien Wentzel, a former gangster who is now a peace worker.

“In the issues of child soldiers in the South African context, in the first instance is the denial of the existence of child soldiers, and if you have an existence of denial of child soldiers among those with the level of policy making powers, it means that no solutions can possibly emerge,” said Professor Williams.

Maulana Rodrigues, said in gang-infested areas, children are recruited because they are easily indoctrinated and the penalty for convicted youngsters was not as severe as for an adult.

Mr Rodrigues believes the number of child soldiers has grown between 450 and 500 in the Athlone area this year.

Another statistic is that 80 percent of child soldiers from Hanover Park are school drop-outs from primary and high school and they start out as young as 9.

“The way children pay their debts off to the warlord is by killing members of the rival gangs. After every murder committed by the child soldier of the rival, they are being applauded and will get privilege from the warlord and move up in the ranks,” said Mr Rodrigues.

Valdi van Reenen-Le Roux, director from the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, said the issue of child soldiers had been discussed in their anti-torture forums.

“A lot of our child soldiers are drop-outs but we also need to realise that some of our child soldiers are in schools for a particular reason and that is the gang economy,” said Ms Van Reenen-Le Roux.

“Where do gangs recruit? Where do they sell? It’s within the schools.”