Shares violent reality of many African women and children at university conference

A young girl set off to walk into town, along the main road, full of traffic, full of people. She was surrounded by three young boys.

They were former Mai Mai militia who had been demobilized, their guns taken away from them.

They surrounded her, they pinned her down and they took turns raping her. And when she got up to run, one of them took out a hunting knife and sliced off the soles of her feet. And then they raped her again.

Stories like the one above are all too real for Dr. Samantha Nutt, a physician and founder of War Child Canada, who was one of the speakers who presented recently at the Mount Royal University Children’s Well-Being Symposium on Oct. 26.

Nutt doesn’t use photos or a PowerPoint presentation. She tells stories of African women and children — stories that can hold an entire audience captive.

Her work with War Child Canada has taken Nutt to some of the most devastated regions the globe has to offer. She has witnessed horrific sights that most people would struggle to believe.

The organization’s website states that its goal is to “empower children and young people to flourish within their communities and overcome the challenges of living with, and recovering from, conflict.”

If you ask Nutt who obstructs her work, she will tell you it’s not just gun-wielding, drugged-up adolescent militants; it’s the rest of the world. It’s those who sit back, complacently assuming that nothing will change.

For Nutt, such assumptions are some of the biggest setbacks the world faces when trying to aide and end famine, genocide and the use of children in conflict. She says as long as there are those who happily stick to the oft-mentioned mantra, “There’s nothing we can do,” no progress will be made.

Fighting against arms

Dr. Samantha Nutt, a physician and the founder of War Child Canada, presented a harrowing account of life for children and women in Africa at the Mount Royal University Children’s Well Being Symposium on Oct. 26.
Photo by: Taryn Hajnrych
Through detailing the difficulties that she faced as an aide worker in Somalia on her first mission, Nutt said that it wasn’t famine or food shortages that were the biggest obstacle. It was “drugged-up, trigger-happy adolescents” who were armed with AK-47s and who sabotaged progress at every turn.

“In a place like Somalia, automatic weapons are more readily available and accessible than clean drinking water,” she says. Most of these arms are lightweight, child friendly, and can be purchased for approximately $20, which is less than the cost of admission to the average North American amusement park.

With costs so low and the sheer number of arms available worldwide — an estimated 200 million AK-47s — it is no surprise that this easily quantifiable obstacle is one of the hardest to overcome, Nutt said.

So how is it that the arms trade is linked to North America? Nutt explained that approximately 70 per cent of all weapons being sold are supplied by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the United States.

She pointed out that Canadians are also implicated, and in more ways than one. Canada is in the top 10 countries for small arms exports, with numbers having tripled in the past seven years. Canada also has one of the lowest transparency ratings in the world when it comes to revealing information regarding arms exports, she said.

So maybe this doesn’t intimately link all Canadians to global conflict. But those people who are active members of the work force and plan to collect from the Canadian Pension Plan are indirectly linked, she added.

For example, she said, the Canadian Pension Plan invests hundreds of millions of dollars in the top 100 arms manufacturers in the world, including well-known names such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Add to the list investments in companies that produce deadly landmines, and one can see how Canada still actively supports ongoing conflicts.

Nutt said that if there were no demand for weapons like grenade launchers, semi-automatic rifles and landmines, more progress would be made. With a net trade value of $4 billion, there still remains a great demand, she added.

Countering extreme violence

Currently, said Nutt, there is a war being waged in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is considered to be the worst war in terms of civilians killed since WWII.

Nutt told the audience at Mount Royal how more than five million people have lost their lives in this conflict, the majority being women and children who are powerless to militant groups and despotic warlords.

Nutt took time to speak with students in attendance while promoting her new book, Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid.
Photo by: Taryn Hajnrych
“Roughly half of those fighting in the war in the eastern regions are kids under the age of 18 who are implicated in some of the most egregious human rights violations in the world,” said Nutt. These human rights violations include murder, rape and genocide; with rape taking on a whole new meaning.

The Congolese civil war has single-handedly been responsible for the creation of a new medical term, REV, which stands for rape with excessive violence. Rape is so prolific and barbaric in this war that it is often referred to as the “War Against Women.”

Rape with excessive violence has serious consequences, said Nutt, and by definition involves gang rape and the amputation of female genitalia and breasts, leaving almost all victims infected with HIV.

Saving child soldiers

Nutt is not the only one waging war against warlords who recruit and coerce children into their war, training them to inflict deadly harm on their own communities and countrymen. Romeo Dallaire, author of They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, has dedicated his life to the eradication of the use of child soldiers.

Dallaire’s website states: “In conflicts around the world, there is an increasingly popular weapon system that requires negligible technology, is simple to sustain, has unlimited versatility and incredible capacity for both loyalty and barbarism.

“In fact, there is no more complete end-to-end weapon system in the inventory of war-machines. What are these cheap, renewable, plentiful, sophisticated and expendable weapons? Children.”

In her presentation, Nutt stated her belief that “war lords who have used and exploited children do deserve to be held accountable for their actions.” It is estimated that right now, nearly 300,000 children are being used as militants around the world, she said.

Dawne Clark, director of the MRU Centre for Child Well-Being, said of Nutt’s presentation: “I was left with a feeling of overwhelming helplessness. She presented a world of war and abuse of children that many of us cannot even imagine, never mind understand.

“The message was even stronger when she showed how many of our everyday decisions may cause children to be impacted or directly involved in war, such as the use of ‘dirty’ or ‘blood’ coltan in cell phones.”

Nutt’s book, Damned Nations, is available on the War Child website.

thajnrych@cjournal.ca