"Children of War: Broken Childhood" Exhibition

Visitors explore the exhibition and see the many faces of children in conflict.
The “Children of War: Broken Childhood” exhibition features images of child soldiers and children victims of war from around the world.
Canadian Chargé d’Affaires, Bradley Bélanger, thanks “John” for his testimony about the realities of children in war. Canadian Chargé d’Affaires, Bradley Bélanger, thanks “John” for his testimony about the realities of children in war.
Delegates of SAIIA Young Leaders Conference visit the exhibition at Constitution Hill.
Louise Holt, Director at the High Commission of Canada, delivers opening remarks at the Child Gauge workshop. Louise Holt, Director at the High Commission of Canada, delivers opening remarks at the Child Gauge workshop.
Participants of the Child Gauge workshop discuss how to improve the child protection system in South Africa.

When children are involved in the violence and brutality of war their rights, their childhoods, and their futures are violated. Yet, the lives of millions of children around the world are threatened every day as they are subjected to the trauma of armed conflicts.

In an effort to stop this harmful phenomenon, the High Commission of Canada to South Africa, in partnership with Constitution Hill and the United Nations Information Centre, hosted the photo exhibition “Children of War: Broken Childhood.”

The exhibition draws attention to the stark reality that an estimated 300,000 children worldwide are involved in armed conflict and provides a glimpse into the lives of children victims of war. By shedding light on these practices, the exhibition promotes awareness about the prevention of child soldier recruitment, and the need for the rehabilitation of children that have been exposed to hostilities.

The life of a child soldier

The exhibition features photos taken by renowned photographers depicting the lives of child soldiers from around the world. The collection was curated by Leora Kahn of the non-governmental organization, Proof: Media for Social Justice, and with support from the Office of Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

The High Commission together with Constitution Hill and the UN Information Centre hosted an opening reception at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa to launch the exhibition. The launch coincided with Universal Children’s Day and the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Marivic Garcia, Senior Psychosocial Trauma Professional for the Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation was the keynote speaker for the launch. She spoke about the trauma experienced by children in conflict, most of whom have lost their families or were unwillingly recruited to join armed groups.

Followed by Ms. Garcia’s address, former child soldier “John” (name changed to protect his identity) shared his moving testimony about his life as a child in conflict. His chilling story brought to life the real perspective of the images on the walls of the exhibit. He recounted his experience as a child soldier, from being abducted at the age of 12 by a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to his arrival in South Africa as an asylum seeker. His recollection of killing a man at the age of 14 was the most poignant and struck an emotional chord with the audience.

Children’s rights workshops

Canada has long been recognized as a leading advocate on children and armed conflict. To raise awareness about the broader subject of children’s rights, the High Commission of Canada also organized two workshops on the rights of children and youth.

The first workshop was attended by the participants of the South African Institute for International Affairs’ (SAIIA) annual Young Leaders Conference. The young leaders of the conference – fifty-five secondary school students from across South Africa – as well as twenty volunteers and organizers from SAIIA joined a guided tour of the Children of War exhibition. Following the tour, participants engaged in a Q&A session with former child soldier “John.”

The workshop with SAIIA brought together an inspiring group of future leaders. Raising their awareness of the issues faced by child soldiers has helped equipped them as agents of change for the future.

In addition to the SAIIA workshop, the High Commission collaborated with the Synergos Institute to host a second workshop that served to unpack the 2014 Child Gauge report, an annual publication of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town.

The 2014 report focused on the high prevalence of violence against South Africa’s children and youth. The workshop provided a platform for the thirty-five participants from civil society organizations to engage in an interactive conversation about how South Africa’s child protection system can be strengthened to address this situation.

The two workshops and the Children of War exhibition are part of Canada’s commitment towards ending the use of girls and boys in hostilities. In pursuit of this goal, Canada will continue to work with its South African partners and with international organizations to ensure that children affected by armed conflict around the world are protected.