Africa: land of wildebeest and child soldiers

UPDATE: response to criticisms at end of this post.

(Apologies to the great blog Wronging Rights for stealing one of their headline templates.)

Big attention grabber in the NYT with this picture splashed all over the front page.

The usual mixed emotions: (1) compassion and sorrow for these and other children caught up in horrific wars, (2) alarm at exploitation of the child soldier stereotype for Africa.

Very crude data that I checked a while ago suggested that about 0.2 percent of African teenage boys were child soldiers.

UPDATE: Response to critical comments below: thanks for pointing out where I was too terse or unclear on this post. I did not mean to say the NYT should NOT do a story about US taxpayers financing child soldiers in Somalia, of course that is big news and should lead to a backlash correcting the problem.

I was worried more about the emotional buttons that are pushed by the large picture dominating the front page. These pictures obviously provoke a visceral response: how horrific to see a child with a gun. For this reason, they are used awfully often by the media (see new pictures inserted into this update). A Google images search for "child soldiers Africa" returned 2 million hits. The frequency of repetition of these photos perpetuate the stereotype of Africa as a barbaric place awash in child soldiers. Newspapers would be more likely to be sensitive in other areas, especially domestic ones, like say not frequently showing scary pictures of young black males toting guns in US cities.

The statistic I gave was not meant to imply "hey it doesn't matter because the number is small," just like it would be of no comfort to someone paralyzed by a gunshot to be told that the incidence of gunshot-paralysis is low. The statistic was meant to correct the perception that child soldiers are more widespread than they really are in Africa, I think most people would have guessed a higher number.