According to international law, child participation in armed conflict is not allowed, and recruitment of children under 15 is considered a war crime. Child soldiers are those used by armed groups who manipulate, indoctrinate, and arm them to fight for their cause. As child soldiers, these children are forced to carry out dangerous tasks such as laying mines and using weapons, and are treated harshly with little healthcare and frequent abuse. It is estimated by SOS Children's Villages that since 1998 more than 30 countries have had child soldiers used within their borders. These groups abducting the children are most commonly rebel groups, but may also consist of government-endorsed organizations, civil militia, or other armed forces. Because children are weak and dependent, and their captors brutal and armed, it is extremely difficult to get out of their situations of armed conflict. Child soldiers, especially girls, are also targeted for sexual exploitation and rape by military forces. Children that are not forcibly taken into armed conflicts as child soldiers may join for physical sustenance, a feeling of belonging, or a satisfaction of revenge against what they feel is an abusive group. Although difficult to assess numbers in these ambiguous situations, Amnesty International states that the number of global child soldiers is in the hundreds of thousands.
There are many accounts of the use of child soldiers, and yet many go internationally unrecognized, kept within the nation's borders. Some nations recognized to currently have reports of child soldiers are Somalia, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar, Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, and Mali. The situation in northern Uganda where Invisible Children has been working is where approximately 10,000 children have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the past 15 years alone. Sudanese children also face involvement in armed conflict with the Darfur conflict in which, according to UNICEF, up to 6,000 child soldiers have been used by both government and rebel militaries, with some being as young as 11 years old. One difficulty is that in the midst of these conflicts, many feel a hatred toward the children themselves instead of their abductors, and economic or other aid put toward these children is not even considered. Former child soldiers are also forced to deal with being displaced from their families, forgotten by their communities, and ignored in their immense psychological and physical needs after being involved in these conflicts.
In November of 1989, the UN General Assembly agreed upon the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was the first treaty attempting to recognize and ensure the protection of specific needs of children. This treaty is the most endorsed human rights agreement; Somalia and the United States are the only two nations who have not ratified it. The UN also convened to pass Security Council resolution 2002 in July of 2011 to tighten its sanctions on the countries of Eritrea and Somalia. They did this with the hope that over the 12 month sanction, these nations would address the issue of child soldiers within their countries. Amnesty International has also been involved with this issue and has been creating global awareness of specific accounts of the use of child soldiers. Child Soldiers International is an organization that works to prevent groups from being able to take these children, enable demobilization, and allow rehabilitation and reintegration. Another effort to aid children involved in conflict, Child Soldiers Global Report provides facts and statistics in order to create responses to the human rights violations taking place around the world. SOS Children's Villages is another association which supports child soldier rehabilitation programs specifically in Uganda, Sudan, and Palestine. In 2006, the International Criminal Court's (ICC) first arrest warrant was given to Thomas Dyilo, organizer of the Union of the Congolese Patriots (UPC) which used child soldiers within its forces. This demonstrated the international ability to carry out and maintain justice in regards to child soldiers.
The use of child soldiers is currently most prevalent within central African nations including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia, Eritrea, Uganda, and Rwanda. However, there are other African countries which also struggle with the issue.
There have been reports in both South and Southeast Asia of child soldiers being used, but most reports have been centered on Burma whose status regarding child soldiers has been classified by some as the worst in the world.
Middle Eastern Bloc:
There have been instances of the use of child soldiers in parts of the Middle East like in Palestine and Yemen, but outside of these two nations, not many cases regarding child soldiers are known of.
In parts of Europe there are accounts of child soldiers, but the European bloc is also active in opposing and preventing their use. The European Union (EU) has initiated the European Commission which is set to discuss and confront the global child soldier problem.
The Western bloc has not been largely involved with this issue as it is not a very relevant problem there, but aid from the Western bloc has been sent in various cases.
Latin American Bloc:
There have been instances of child soldiers within Latin America, but it is not a prevalent issue there.
Questions to Consider
1. Are there any accounts of child soldiers being used in your country? If so, how did you nation respond to it?
2. What organizations of your country, if any, have been involved with child soldiers, and what have they done?
3. How can the abduction of children be better prevented by communities?
4. How may the reintegration of previous child soldiers become more successful regarding the stigma they face?
5. How involved should UN and other organizations get with countering rebel groups?
6. What should the main focus of relief groups be (prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, etc.), and why?