The Smurfs at War

October 11, 2005

UNICEF has created what has to be the most brilliant campaign ad they’ve ever done (h/t to N.Z. Bear.)

The short film pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom- shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.

Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.

The final frame bears the message: “Don’t let war affect the lives of children.”

Designed to raise awareness (and money) for rehabilitating child soldiers in Burundi, UNICEF is hoping that the shock of seeing the cute little blue guys felled will keep people from being apathetic about their needs.

While I applaud any efforts to provide for child soldiers that have been brutalized and conscripted into armies and terrorist groups, I can’t help but wonder why UNICEF doesn’t also attempt to raise awareness in Belgium about the main issues perpetuating the need for these soldiers.  Perhaps this is because more than 70% of the world’s diamond business is done in Antwerp?

The Secretary-General…noted that, in countries including the [Democratic Republic of Congo], “The illicit exploitation of natural resources, in particular diamonds, gold … coltan and timber, in zones of conflict, has … become a principal means of fuelling (sic) and prolonging conflicts in which children suffer the most”.  (Quote taken from the Report of the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, 2003; emphasis mine.)

We wouldn’t want to disrupt commerce, now, would we?

Often, the same illegal arms dealers who provide the weapons and ammunition to these rebel movements also facilitate the transport and trade of the gold, diamonds, and other natural resources controlled by the rebels.  The revenue is used to fuel their fights and provide luxuries to rebel commanders, and control of the area solely for the resources more often than not becomes the goal of rebel and government forces alike.  In the context of a movie review, David Pratt of Scotland’s Sunday Herald has recently taken a look at the illegal arms process and its impact on regional conflict in areas like Burundi, Rwanda, and other war-torn African nations.

If they can get away with it, underage soldiers are recruited by government forces for their "special abilities" as well:

“’Children make good fighters because they are young and want to show off. They think it is all a game, so they are fearless’ – this is how a rebel commander fighting the government of President Laurent Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo, justified the use of children in his ranks…”

“…Acucena mentioned that the Mozambican government always took the rights of children into account during the conflict. Thus when the first compulsory conscription law was introduced in 1978 it specifically prohibited the conscription of children under 18 years into military service. However, in a war situation the enforcement of this clause was not always possible. Unofficial estimates show that some 23% of the army were children under the age of 18.”  (from an article by Antonio Gumende, emphasis mine.)


The intersection of political conflict and economic gain is nothing new, but the tragedy of child soldiers, kidnapped, brainwashed, terrified, raped, beaten, and abused, should not go unnoticed in the great swarm of human rights abuses that the world is faced with every day.


For more information about the use of children as soldiers around the world, see the 2004 Child Soldiers Global Report here.  Also see articles Gunplay I and Gunplay II by Kevin Sites, this post at Mornings Come Down, info on the LRA in Uganda, this piece at Black Looks, and this post at Two and Two Makes Five.



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