'Forced to kill': Ex-child soldier shares 'incredibly painful' memories in kids' book
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, October 2, 2015 10:05AM EDT
Michel Chikwanine was five years old when he was kidnapped, drugged, blindfolded and forced to kill his best friend at gunpoint. That traumatic experience sent Chikwanine down a path many child soldiers have followed in countries such as Congo, and while his hardship happened half a world away, Chikwanine says it's the kind of story all kids should be educated about.
"We sometimes (shy) away from these conversations, but these are real topics. They are happening to kids like myself at the age of five," Chikwanine told CTV's Canada AM on Friday.
Chikwanine recently published a children's book about his time as a child soldier with a rebel group in Congo. The book, called "Child Soldier: When boys and girls are used in war," includes an illustrated retelling of the many horrors he faced before he got away from the rebels, years later.
Chikwanine is now a motivational speaker and a peace advocate who often speaks about his experience as a child soldier.
He says children should be made aware of the hardships that cost other children their lives, so they can become informed citizens when they are adults.
"What do you do to a young person when they see another young person dying across the world?" Chikwanine said. "Those conversations for parents, for teachers are so important to have with our young kids, if we are to have informed citizens."
Chikwanine was five years old when he was abducted, along with several friends, while playing soccer in a field in Congo. Congolese rebels loaded the children into trucks, cut their wrists and rubbed a mixture of gunpowder and cocaine into the wounds to get them high. Then, the children were divided into two groups.
Chikwanine was placed in one group, and his best friend, a 12-year-old named Kevin, was put in the other. "Kevin was put in front of me, and as I was blindfolded, drugged and manipulated, I was forced to kill him," he said.
He was forced to shoot Kevin, without knowing who he was shooting. Then, after the rebels showed Chikwanine what he had done, they said: "You've killed your best friend. Your family will never take you back."
Chikwanine says he still deals with the "incredibly painful" memory of shooting Kevin every day. "Kevin was a good friend of mine," Chikwanine recalled. "He used to fight for me sometimes, when I would fight kids who were bigger than me."
He acknowledged that it's difficult for parents to talk to their children about the deaths of other young people, such as the Syrian migrant boy who was found dead on a beach last month.
"They need to understand what's happening around the world," he said.