Kids Forced to Kill
A Japanese author is shedding light on an ongoing tragedy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His work examines the plight of children who have been forced to become soldiers and take part in atrocities.
Kenichi Oishi has written a manga to express the children's cries for help. It tells the story of 14-year-old Zaza, who starts out as a kind-hearted boy, loved by his family and neighbors. But when his father and sister are both killed by insurgents he is tricked into becoming a fighter himself.
The story develops based on a relationship kindled between the boy soldier Zaza, and a reporter from Japan. While the characters are fictional, Oishi says the events are all-too real. "I wanted people to know what is going on in Africa, the things happening there right now," explains the author.
Oishi has seen the situation first-hand, during a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An ongoing civil war has claimed the lives of more than five million people. Every village bears scars from the war, and the suffering continues today. Oishi was able to talk to former child soldiers and heard stories of unimaginable horror.
"The armed militants forced us to transport weapons. They tortured and shot those who refused," said one former child soldier. Oishi met another boy suffering from such deep psychological wounds he couldn't even hold a conversation. "People say this boy was nearly an animal when he was brought here," relates Oishi. "I see why they had that impression. I really felt his heartrending cry."
After returning to Japan, Oishi was determined to depict the slaughter taking place in Congo in graphic terms. "The situation cannot be conveyed in words alone. But it is also too violent to show in photographs. That's why we thought using manga would be good. It's a question of how much of the brutality I witnessed can be expressed," he explains.
In the beginning, Zaza is reluctant to fire his gun, but he is promoted to lead the other boys. Oishi refused to gloss over the harsh realities of war, but his story also offers hope. It includes a scene where Zaza lays down his weapon.
"If readers can imagine their own children forced to become soldiers, they will feel for these boys, just like I did," says Oishi. And while life in Tokyo feels a long way from the world of civil war and terrorism, the author's manga is giving a voice to the many young people suffering in Africa.