Korea Has a Historical Duty to Honor Ex-Child Soldiers

      February 19, 2010 13:06

      The Defense Ministry said Thursday it will recognize the military service of child soldiers who fought in the Korean War and record their contributions to their country. A ministry official said the recording of their identities began last year and will be completed this year.

      Over the last 60 years, the ministry had refused to recognize those young soldiers as having served on active duty because doing so would violate international regulations prohibiting the conscription of people under the age of 18. But the South Korean military, which suffered from an acute shortage of soldiers at the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War, deployed large numbers of young soldiers in combat without proper military training, and many of them gave their lives to defend the country. Their parents died long ago.

      But when former child soldiers continued to petition for the recognition of their contributions, the government finally decided to partly accept their demands in 2000, on the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, by creating a law to guarantee honorable treatment to ex-soldiers at war. A total of 22,165 former child soldiers who volunteered to fight for their country during the Korean War were registered as veterans and patriots. Among them, 4,185 are believed to have died, while 17,980 are still alive. But even that law does not recognize their conscription but classifies them as volunteers. Some of them did volunteer, yet many others were conscripted.

      The government already recognizes the services of volunteer student soldiers from Japan during the war and awards them W1 million (US$1=W1,149) a month for their service. But former child soldiers who had to step into the battlefield at ages prohibited by international law receive only W80,000 a month in recognition. No facilities exist to honor their sacrifices.

      The freedom and prosperity enjoyed by Koreans today were made possible by the sacrifices of these child soldiers. If the country gave them no choice but to stand in the frontline of battle at a time when Korea's fate was at stake, it is time to give them the honor they deserve and shoulder the burden of history by doing so.

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