Issue: Decommissioning child soldiers in national military, paramilitary and other armed groups, preventing their future recruitment and reintegrating them into civilian life
Student Officer: Florine Spiekerman
Position: President of the General Assembly
Throughout history children have been extensively involved in military campaigns and conflicts. While the practice was widespread among European countries in the early 20th century (an estimated 250,000 youths fought in WW1), nowadays the most affected regions are Africa, South East Asia, and Latin America. Since the 1970s there has been a wave of campaigns to raise awareness of the situation, and various conventions and other documents have been created and ratified to address the issue. Among others, this has led to the creation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Paris Principles, and the Paris Commitments.
During civil conflicts, many child soldiers are often abducted by paramilitary and other armed groups, or otherwise unlawfully recruited. They are subjected to violence in the forms of maiming, rape, and murder, and are left traumatized. Within armed groups, their occupations range from serving as messengers to actively participating in the looting of villages and killing of citizens. These experiences rob them of their childhood, and leave them scarred for a long period of time.
Following civil conflict, these children often face the struggle of reintegrating back into civilian life. Reunification with their families is often a challenge, either because the family has died or because a feeling of guilt haunts the child. Former child soldiers also need extensive psychological support, reminding them how to be a child rather than a combatant. Through programs, they are taught to build a relationship on trust again, and to leave behind their violent past.
While significant progress has been made, the use of child soldiers remains a pressing issue, and has no place in a modern society. Additional campaigns are necessary to pressure member states to stop using child soldiers in government forces, as well as providing aid to organizations and countries fighting to release child soldiers from armed groups.
Definition of Key Terms
Child Soldier (CAAFAG)
Any person under the age of 18 who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, messengers, porters, and anyone accompanying such groups. While the official term sets the age limit at eighteen, over 80% of child soldiers are estimated to be under the age of fifteen, with some as young as seven or eight. In 1997, the inclusive terminology Children Associated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups (CAAFAG) was formally adopted in the Cape Town Principles.
Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
One of the most well-known cases of the use of child soldiers to fight a war, situated largely in Uganda, the Central African Republic, the DR Congo, and South Sudan. Is led by Joseph Kony, and has been described as “effectively a cult with a core of just 200 adult members”. In 2005, Amnesty International reported an estimated 30,000 “night commuters” – children hoping to avoid abduction – were seeking refuge, particularly in the city center, at night. The issue was highlighted in the 2012 “Stop Kony” campaign.
DDR Program (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration)
DDR programs are often implemented following the course of (civil) wars, intended to bring peace and stability to a region after conflict. Disarmament requires stripping combatants of their weapons, and often DDR programs use a trade-in system whereby weapons are exchanged for cash or subsidies. Demobilization refers to the formal registering of former combatants, familiarizing them with the DDR program, and transporting them to an area of relative peace to allow them to recuperate. Reintegration refers to the final stage, often after a period of a few years, whereby social and economic assimilation are ensured. DDR programs often overlook children, and tend to focus more on adult males and females, although they are beneficial to ex-combatants of all ages.
This optional protocol was adopted back in 2000, setting the official age limit of compulsory recruitment at 18 years of age. OPAC came into force in 2002,
Paris Commitments and Paris Protocol
Policy documents that aim to strengthen political action taken to prevent the association of children with armed groups and forces, and to ensure their safe and sustainable reintegration into civil society.
The historical use of child soldiers
The use of minors in warfare is no new concept. From medieval armies to the Renaissance era, children have been used in armed conflict for a long time. They were enlisted as soldiers in various European armies, although it was widely considered cruel to use young boys under the age of 16. Various governments and monarchs also forced young boys into training camps before conscripting them into the army for years at a time.
World War I and World War II
During WWI and WWII many boys volunteered for the armed forces, with governments often being lenient where age was concerned. Youth organizations enlisted young boys to brainwash them and instill in them a certain ideology, such as the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany. In Japan, teenagers were taught to use weapons in the case of a possible invasion. However, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rendered the use of these child soldiers useless.
Child soldiers in the 1990s
As the world was concerned with various regional conflicts in the 1990s, child soldiers were again used as combatants in these bloody battles. In Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, various military and paramilitary groups used child soldiers as young as ten years old to protect or raid villages, depending on which group they were a part of. In Sierra Leone, thousands of children were also sexually exploited or forced to work in the diamond fields. In 2007, the Special Court for Sierra Leone prosecuted various members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, finding them guilty of war crimes. The court became the first-ever UN backed tribunal to legally prosecute someone for the military conscription of children.
One of the key issues facing the situation of child soldiers is their recruitment. It is often difficult to protect children from possible recruitment, especially if they are being recruited to a government-led armed force. There are, however, usually several factors that can contribute to the rate of recruitment of child soldiers into any armed group. By targeting and eliminating these factors, the number of children recruited is likely to reduce.
Children are more likely to be recruited into armed groups if there is an economic incentive to do so. Many child soldiers who were involved with Latin American guerilla groups, such as the FARC in Colombia, cite poverty as a reason for voluntarily joining armed forces. They are often falsely promised riches by warlords and guerilla leaders, who swear to take care of the child’s family financially. Of course this is generally not true. By improving primary and secondary education in conflict communities, these children will have greater economic opportunities and be less inclined to join armed forces voluntarily for financial support.
In most cases of involuntary recruitment, villages are looted and the children are rounded up and kidnapped. This had led to the phenomenon of “night commuters”, children who sleep in l arge groups hidden away at night, surrounded by community members who seek to protect them from forceful recruitment by armed forces, which may strike at night. The need to protect villages from such violence has been addressed by various NGO’s and UNO’s, who invest in communication systems between villages so as to report sightings and movement of armed groups. This allows villages in the area to contact one another and prepare effectively for an attack. Additionally, it allows organizations such as the UN and AU to send troops to affected areas on time.
A key step in the rehabilitation of any child soldier is the reunification with family. Families are not always accepting of former child soldiers: some may fear or blame their child following the violence it was involved in. Where reunification is not possible, child soldiers are often placed with a foster family to help them regain trust and rebuild a human relationship.
As part of their training, child soldiers are often brainwashed and subjected to all sorts of horrors. Because of this, they are left traumatized and are unable to feel as a child. Studies have shown that psychosocial approaches are the most effective in helping former child soldiers overcome stress. This is done by reintegrating them into their former society, allowing them to build relationships with adults and children alike, and learning to function in a family-based environment again.
Education and Economic Opportunity
While a child soldier is engaged in conflict, they miss out on their primary or secondary education. Following their decommissioning, it is vital that children return to school. However, this can be difficult for a variety of reasons, including the financial burden on the family of sending their child to school and the inability of the child to be close to other children. With extensive therapy and support (both psychological and financial), former child soldiers should be encouraged to return to school so as to provide them with the chance of building a future for themselves.
Major Parties Involved and Their Views
NGO’s and UNO’s
There are a variety of NGO’s and UNO’s involved in the combatting of child soldiers. Some of the most active include the following:
An NGO dedicated to ending the recruitment of child soldiers into the LRA, urging the United States government to take military action in the central region of Africa where the LRA is active. It furthermore acts as a charity, asking for donations to help advance technology on the ground so as to detect the movement of the LRA and provide a means of contact for local communities under threat. It further advocated the passing of the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and North Uganda Recovery Act, which led to the deployment of 100 US soldiers to the region for the purpose of training the local forces in measures to track and capture LRA leader Joseph Kony.
An NGO based in the UK which provides support to former child soldiers in conflict regions. They try to work together with local communities to provide long-term rehabilitative support to children and youth. They use creative and sports activities to reinforce psychological development of the child, and further use these programs to bring children together who have been driven apart by war. Lastly, they hold global campaigns and fund-raising events to raise awareness of the situation.
Child Soldiers International
Child Soldiers International was created by a coalition of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Defence for Children International. Its original purpose was the passing of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which was passed in 2002. Following this, it dedicated itself to the implementation of the document in the following years. They are now working towards a ban on the voluntary recruitment of children under the age of 18, and the prevention of non-voluntary recruitment of children in armed conflict. Additionally, they aim to strengthen the accountability for groups responsible for such recruitment.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Thousands of children serve in the army, as well as a variety of armed militia groups. At the height of the Second Congo War it was estimated that roughly 30,000 children were involved with armed forces. Nowadays it still has one of the highest numbers of child soldiers in the world. In part, the ICC has addressed this when it arrested Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former warlord. The trial is considered monumental as it could set the standard for future trials of a similar nature.
Sudan has a violent history, with the widespread use of child soldiers in both paramilitary and governmental army groups. In 2004, it was estimated that roughly 17,000 children were involved in such groups. Of these young soldiers, between 2500 and 5000 children served in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Although it advertised a large-scale decommissioning movement, the SPLA continued to recruit and re-recruit child soldiers to its cause. Shockingly, the government has also sentenced former child soldiers to death for crimes they committed while associated with the armed groups.
An estimated 30,000 youths have been abducted and recruited as child soldiers since the creation of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Additionally the Ugandan People’s Defense Force has recruited a small number of children to partake in its forces, all of them minors. Many children in Uganda are at risk of recruitment through nightly lootings in villages, leading to the phenomenon of “night commuters”, children who sleep in large groups in the middle of the city away from their families, hidden away from view so as to minimize the chance of being recruited.
According to reports by the Human Rights Watch, as many as 70,000 boys serve in the national Burmese army called the Tatmadaw, which forcefully recruits youngsters off the streets. To counter this, many children are part of armed ethnic opposition forces, most notably the United Wa State Army.
Saddam Hussein’s regime had boot camps full of children between the ages of 11 and 13 training to fight in the Iraqi army. It was reported that during the Gulf War, boys as young as 12 were trained to shoot at allied forces using Kalashnikov weapons. Nowadays, various insurgency groups have recruited children as combatants. The terrorist organization ISIS runs various jihadi camps within Iraq, brainwashing young boys and teaching them to fight at a young age.
Israel and Palestine
A handful of children have been used in the Israel/Palestine conflict, recruited by Palestinian paramilitary to orchestrate suicide bombings. In 2008, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reported that Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad used children as fighters and couriers. In October 2010, an Israeli military tribunal convicted two soldiers of the Israeli Defense Force for using a Palestinian child as a human shield. While the case is rare, it is not unheard of on either side.
Timeline of Relevant Resolutions, Treaties and Events
Description of event
GA establishes the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict
The Cape Town Principles and Best Practices on the Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and on Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa are adopted, leading to the formal terminology CAAFAG, “children associated with armed forces and armed groups”.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflictis adopted, legally setting the age-limit at 18 years old. It is ratified in 2002 by 126 states.
Resolutions 1379, 1539, and 1612 are established to identify parties that recruit children in armed conflict and to enter in dialogue with these parties. The Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on grave child rights violations and the SC Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict is founded.
The first case to come before the ICC focuses on charges regarding the recruitment of child soldiers in the DR Congo, putting Thomas Lubanga Djilo on trial.
The Paris Conference “Free From War” leads to the creation of the first Paris Principles and Paris Commitments, concerning children in armed conflict and protecting them from future recruitment. The follow-up is held at UN headquarters in New York in 2008, where the number of countries endorsing the Paris Commitments rises to 76.
Evaluation of Previous Attempts to Resolve the Issue
A variety of official documents have been created by member states to set guidelines for preventing the recruitment of child soldiers. However, to date not enough member states have ratified such documents, preventing their effective implementation. Additionally, there is still no uniformity among countries as to the legal age of recruitment into the military, which makes it harder to set a guideline for conflict regions.
In many areas questions also arise regarding the legal accountability of former child soldiers. While it is widely regarded that no child should be held accountable for their actions as a child soldier, some countries still persecute former child soldiers, leading to their incarceration or execution. While reintegration into civilian life is essential for the children, they are thus not always given the chance to return. Additionally, some communities are hesitant to allow former child soldiers to return.
While rehabilitation programs have proven to be incredibly successful, children are often overlooked in post-conflict efforts, and are not considered for DDR programs. These programs are essential to the rehabilitation of former child soldiers, allowing them to process their trauma and obtain an education.
There are various possible solutions to the issue, but all will take time and commitment from various member states to be effectively implemented. Effective solutions should include the implementation of legislation that targets groups using child soldiers, as well as the implementation of sanctions on any government that actively enlists child soldiers. More funds are needed for the expansion of DDR programs to include a greater number of children in more areas. Additionally the use of more campaigns can raise funds for the development of communication technology and training in rural areas so as to minimize attacks and subsequent recruitment.
Furthermore, to avoid future recruitment there needs to be additional support for expanding education and economic programs in affected areas so as to minimize economic incentive for voluntary recruitment. This can be done through the provision of subsidies and microloans to improve local incomes and businesses, and help families out of poverty. By securing a sustainable income for local communities, the youth of these communities will feel less inclined to join paramilitary groups to sustain their families.
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