Children Do What They See Done

Nature is the overbearing factor in our behavior but nurture also has a role that cannot be neglected. Early exposure to violence, combined with poverty and abuse can shape our attitudes and behavior in such a way that the damage to the psyche will contribute to the manifestation of violence in thoughts and actions throughout our lives and can result in mental illness.

Invisible Children, Compassion International SandStory

“I developed this SandStory presentation to highlight the need of poor children around the world. The tremendous song, “Invisible Children” was written and performed by Chris McCall. Find it on itunes. I hope you will go to and sponsor a child.” — Joe Castillo

In an informal discussion group I belong to we began a discussion on centering on children, poverty, violence and compassion prompted by a film.  We began by considering the plight of child soldiers like Komona in Kim Nguyen’s Oscar-nominated film War Witch. It’s about a 12-year-old girl captured by rebel forces in Sub-Saharan Africa and her tale of survival in war-torn Africa has captivated audiences around the world.

War Witch

In the film Komona, a 14 year old girl, tells her unborn child the story of how she became a rebel. It all began when she was 12; kidnapped by the rebel army, fed drugs that made her hallucinate, she was forced to carry a AK 47 and kill. Her only escape and friend is Magician, a 15 year old boy who wants to marry her. Despite the horrors and daily grind of war,  the two fall in love.They thought they had escaped the war, but fate decided otherwise. In order to survive, Komona will need to return to where she came from and make amends with her past. Around them, war rages on….

Then we discussed the situations involving child soldiers around the world.

“Child soldiers can be found in at least 30 conflicts today. While many are used by rebel armed groups, at least 18 governments use child soldiers.” — World Vision

Kids Like Ours : Joseph Kony’s child soldiers

This film features children who are former child soldiers, girls that were abducted, or children who have lost entire families to the Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. See how you can help them through UK-based charity, edukid, for less than the price of a coffee a day.

African forces suspend hunt for warlord Kony – African troops in Central African Republic have suspended the hunt for the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony because the new government there is not cooperating with the mission, says Uganda’s top military official.

child soldiers in BurmaForced into fighting: The battle to rid Burma of its child soldiers – There are estimated to be up to 5,000 child soldiers today in Burma.

In 2012, the Burmese government signed up to a landmark agreement, a Joint Action Plan to stop the recruitment of underage boys to the army and to discharge anyone under 18 already in the ranks.

Where Child Soldiers Come From

Child soldiers are commonly found

  1. being raised countries wherein tribalism, nationalism or political ideology has become equivalent to religion and patriotism has become equivalent to idolatry, “God is on our side“;
  2. being raised in cultures (tribes, religions, societies) wherein the status quo is using dehumanizing racist, discriminatory labels and language to describe others who are not raised in the same culture (tribe, religion, society);
  3. being raised in cultures (tribes, religions, societies) wherein the status quo is demonizing people, who have not embraced the same or similar religious and/or political ideologies and role models ie. heroes;
  4. being raised in poverty and exposed to violence in the home and on the streets in every day life;
  5. being raised by or exposed to role models who have demonstrated a propensity for violence and abuse of others;
  6. being modeled, encouraged and/or trained to adopt lifestyles, vocations and professions that include aggression and violence;
  7. being recruited or drafted into or volunteering for rebel, gang or military service and becoming accustomed the hierarchical structure, the privileges of rank, roles, wearing uniforms, following orders while being trained to kill other human beings.

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed? —Bell Hooks

Raising Compassionate Children

Our discussion morphed and became a dialog that went much deeper. We explored the propensity for violence and compassion not only in other cultures but in our own society as well.

Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. – Nelson Mandela

On one hand, few would argue that children raised in poverty and neglect in war torn locations are vulnerable to becoming both victims of violence and perpetrators of violence.

On the other, there is much advice and support for raising compassionate children in the so-called developed nations of the world and it’s needed.

For, if we look closely at the conditions child soldiers come from first, then we can examine those conditions in our own society.  We can see that so many children being raised in conditions of poverty, drug abuse, domestic and gang violence in developed nations like the USA, where the military budget is enormous and systemic racism still prevails needs to be addressed.

The high rate of children going hungry in America is notable, especially considering that the U.S. regularly ranks high in global lists measuring quality of life. In the most recent human-development index released in March by the Human Development Report Office, the USA ranked at number 3, behind only Norway and Australia

Unless we accept that challenge and act then how will we become the change we want to see in this world?


  1. Such a powerful post. A large portion of my professional life was spent in child development programs, which of course involved child maltreatment. After more and more budget cuts and program reductions, I fear that cold-hearted disregard of the welfare of others by the majority of those elected in the last 10 years makes growing poverty and violence a bigger and bigger problem. With the Christian thought that “the sins of the fathers” are visited upon the next seven generations, I would think that those politicians who proselytize their religion would look to meeting the basic needs of children in this country, as well as abroad. But there is only rhetoric without substance, lots of talk but no funding to make sure that children have a safe place to live, adequate nutrition, effective education and a parent who is able to love and care for them. We shall all suffer the sins visited upon the future generations.

    • Its’ shameful to see needy children in developed nations where billions of tax dollars spent every four years on international sport extravaganzas that are equated with national pride. For example, the last Olympics costs here were grossly over budget, as they all are, and we were lied to about the true cost, just as is the case every time. However, the show goes on and we taxpayers are carrying a minimum 35 year debt burden for financing it, despite the fact the average taxpayer couldn’t afford the cost of a ticket to a single Olympic event. Yet, every four years some other country’s citizens will be hosting yet another international extravaganza and boasting about their athletes, while many kids in their country live in poverty and abuse and are vulnerable to being seduced into gangs.

      P.S. I’m choosing not to touch the religious hypocrisy of self professed Christian leaders of political parties with a ten foot pole. Feeding the hungry and healing the sick isn’t on their agenda except during pre-election vote buying times. Thereafter they are busy feeding corporate parasites subsidies and letting them get away without paying taxes while they squabble.

      • Amen! If the energy and funding that went into all athletics, from Olympics to local schools, were directed towards child welfare, there would not be hungry children and homeless families. My city is going to raise taxes to “modernize” a 15 year old football stadium, yet there is no money in the budget to build a sidewalk along a busy road where not one but two children and two parents were killed in separate incidents because there is nowhere to walk to the transit stop but in the street. Priorities are definitely askew!

  2. The scariest and saddest thing about the child soldiers or any child encouraged to use violence or witnesses daily family violence, is that they themselves fall into the downward spiral of becoming violent adults long term/falling into self-destructive behaviours.

    Even if a child is raised /or has daily influence of 1 caring, non-violent adult who is respected by others, it is enormous help for the child.

    My partner had a stepfather who was prone to drunkenness and abuse to his mother. The family were poor immigrants in Ontario.

    He didn’t respect his stepfather and would try to protect his mother as a teen. He had great hopes for his stepfather since after all, he lost his birth father when he was 2 yrs. old during WWII. But hope was dashed quickly. His mother was the total opposite –a caring, well-respected, non-violdent and compassionate person. I know that if it weren’t for her as a positive role model –her 2 boys would have fallen down the wrong road of behaviour.

    So just because a child witnesses violence not all is lost, but there must be strong positive adult care in that child’s life long term ….very soon/asap.

    • Even if a child is raised /or has daily influence of 1 caring, non-violent adult who is respected by others, it is enormous help for the child.

      That’s so true Jean and I thank you for sharing it. My friends work in the international arena with kids and they aren’t among the Christian groups that receive the funding from the USA federal government. Christian groups are the favored groups, which is puzzling as they obviously have two agendas and kids can’t eat dead martyrs not can they form actual relationships with anyone who is not alive.

      When they return to their the USA they are grief stricken by what they see in the inner cities. As far as they are concerned we are all in a state of denial about kids being raised in poverty stricken, violent households where drug abuse is happening. They say that all the elements that lead to children in war zones to become child soldiers are found in inner city environments where kids join gangs – it’s just a matter of degree.

  3. This is a powerful post about a subject that is obviously heart wrenching and needs as much print and air time as it can get. Thank you for having the heart and awareness to post about it, and to do so in such an involving manner.

    • @countingducks
      Thanks so much for commenting. It so good to know that you care too. I was disappointed that when I shared what my friends and I shared offline and it didn’t appear to be of interest to my online friends. Granted I did blog on a subject that may make some or even all of us uncomfortable.

      Poverty and violence are HUGE the world over and that includes where we live too. We would be foolish not to take a close-up of the issues that set children up to become violent individuals and gang members in the so-called developed countries. Many kids right where we live need our help and charity begins at home, yet we don’t see that showcased on TV or in international arenas. On one hand, we are proud international heroes who have governments that assist kids abroad. On the other hand, we are either in denial, or cold-hearted or ashamed to admit the growing poverty, domestic and street violence that plagues kids in our own developed nations and act to reduce and even eliminate it.

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