Written by Blanche Berruquaz
The Commonwealth Film and Theatre festival aims to promote respect for human rights, equality, freedom and sustainable economic development. The opening night showcased Rob Brown’s first feature film ‘Sixteen’: a superb Clin-d’oeil on the fate of a child soldier refugee Jumah. With 300,000 children soldiers in the world, this film questions their rights, their equality, their freedom in the increasing conflicts in developing countries and the dynamics of poverty in Africa. In the past few years awareness through films, songs and books has risen on these Child soldiers. “Sixteen” brings them closer to home at the margin of our society.
Sixteen brought flash backs and made me wonder:
What happen to the kids who held me at gunpoint in Bolivia 30 years ago?
As a daughter of Cubans and Romas marginalised and persecuted, I refused to have fears of others and travelled the world. On the way from dancing in Rio to visiting a cousin in Equator I laid my poncho for the night by the Rio Paraguay. My dreams where abruptly stopped by hard pokes, I opened my eyes to 8 Child soldiers pointing guns from above. I came to no harm- they were as astounded as me. They smiled and laughed and happily shared my breakfast. The portrayal of Jumah brought back those smiles vividly.
What happened to the teenagers who held at gunpoint old ladies in Guatemala, 20 years ago?
After the grandiose Tikal, San Pedro la Laguna cholera epidemic I joined old mamitas on a bus to the market. Our bus was stopped and boarded by a blond, blue-eyed soldier and 6 child soldiers, fear in their eyes, standing shyly between the seats. My companion and I were transferred to a minibus alone with the militia, stopped in the magnificent north Guatemala jungle. I had no fear of the child soldiers but I was ready to kill the soldier: fear of rape and death brought out fiercely my survival instincts. We walked away slowly and then ran to our freedom.
Jumah, through his past life and his escape from the militia life evoques this moment of survival instinct, the want to kill.
More recently, I cycled 3000 km to meet and listen to the stories of refugees uprooted from their home and marginalised in camps and slums. What helps them to stand strong? Well captured by Rob Brown is a simple dream: the recurrence of Jumah’s dream of becoming a barber to escape anger and survive through escape into happiness.
The film was made in 2013 and reflects the current inadequacy of respecting children’ s rights. An increase in intra-state conflicts since 1950, the rise toward 20,000,000 orphans from AIDS, the green war hypothesis, and exploitation instead of sovereignty may be explanations for the 300,000 child soldiers in the world today. They fight in more than 40 countries, though only a few make the news, e.g.: Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Campaigns such as KONY (and the viral online video that promoted it) made people debate the issue and spurred journalists to write articles questioning the controversial subject of the adequacy of attempts to solve the Child soldier issue. In 2013, the United Nations pledged to have zero child soldiers in the world by 2016. This will be difficult to achieve given the levels of current global exploitation, the lack of sovereignty and climate change increasing.
Through the themes of distant African family roots, love, education and location of abode, Rob Brown creates an undercurrent of the inadequacy of refugee UK programmes in their aim to integrate Child soldiers’ refugees.
Rob Brown sets his scenes in a deserted housing estate and a joyless empty school, both to be soon demolished. The former child soldier, Jumah has a pinch of local violence through the stabbing of a vulnerable old man, the involvement of a local crime lord and a gun in a no-man wood.
Who could integrate into a society, whilst living in an environment representing most of society’s failures?
Rob Brown also raises awareness on the emotional turmoil of Child Soldiers. In Jumah’s love for Chloe, we see rejection and desire, rape and sweet sensuality. In Jumah’s relation to Laura, his adoptive mum, we see his longing for cuddles and his struggle to suppress anger. Child soldiers are sometimes kidnapped by warlords at the age of eight and grow up in a world where love has no place, but rape and beating have one. Most child soldiers have had to maim a family member to toughen them up. In the film, we become aware of the rejection of Jumah by his African family and his longing for them. In my opinion this film develops the main issues of concern to a male child soldier refugee’s integration into a society far from home.
However, connected to this theme are many other questions. For example, 40% of Child soldiers are girls kidnapped to act as sex slaves for the soldiers whilst also fighting at the front of the conflicts. I feel overwhelmed by the issues which need to be addressed to solve the current attacks on children and human rights throughout the world but I believe that one more film, one more song, one more written work dedicated to stop the roots of conflicts and their consequences can make a difference.