What is a child soldier?

What is a child soldier?

  • Although there are no exact figures, hundreds of thousands of children under the age of 18 serve in government forces or armed rebel groups. Some are as young as eight years old. (4)
  • Both girls and boys are used as child soldiers. In some countries, like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Uganda, a third or more of the child soldiers were reported to be girls. (4)
  • The majority of the world’s child soldiers are involved in a variety of armed political groups. These include government-backed paramilitary groups, militias and self-defence units operating in many conflict zones. Others include armed groups opposed to central government rule, groups composed of ethnic religious and other minorities and clan-based or factional groups fighting governments and each other to defend territory and resources. (2)
  • DEFINITION: “A child soldier is any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms.” [(6) - see Definitions section in report]


What are child soldiers used for?

  • Children are pressed into combat, where they may be forced to the front lines or sent into minefields ahead of older troops. Some children have been used for suicide missions. (4)
  • Children may also serve as porters or cooks, guards, messengers or spies. (4)
  • In some conflicts, girls may be raped, or given to military commanders as “wives.” (4)
  • Children are sometimes forced to commit atrocities against their own family or neighbors. Such practices help ensure that the child is “stigmatized” and unable to return to his or her home community. (4)


Where are child soldiers currently being used?

  • The problem is most critical in Africa. Children are also used as soldiers in various Asian countries and in parts of Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. (2)
  • The countries where children were actively involved in armed conflict from April 2004-October 2007 were: Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, the DRC, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda…  Peace agreements brought an end to internal conflicts in Aceh/Indonesia in 2005 and in Nepal in 2006. (5)
  • New to the annexes of the [2010] report on violations against children for recruitment are, the Afghan National Police, the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix in the Central African Republic and Hizbul Islam in Somalia. (5)


Why might child soldiers be used?

  • Children are uniquely vulnerable to military recruitment because of their emotional and physical immaturity. They are easily manipulated and can be drawn into violence that they are too young to resist or understand. (4)
  • Technological advances in weaponry and the proliferation of small arms have contributed to the increased use of child soldiers. Lightweight automatic weapons are simple to operate, often easily accessible, and can be used by children as easily as adults. (4)


What are reasons for becoming a child soldier?

  • Children are most likely to become child soldiers if they are poor, separated from their families, displaced from their homes, living in a combat zone or have limited access to education. (4)
  • Many girls have reported enlisting to escape domestic servitude, violence and sexual abuse. (2)
  • While many enlist “voluntarily” research shows that such adolescents see few alternatives to involvement in armed conflict. Some enlist as a means of survival in war-torn regions after family, social and economic structures collapse or after seeing family members tortured or killed by government forces or armed groups. (2)
  • Other children are forcibly recruited, “press-ganged” or abducted by armed groups. (4)


What is being done legally to stop the use of child soldiers?

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989 to protect the rights of children, is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. It encompasses civil rights and freedoms, family environment, basic health and welfare, education, leisure and cultural activities and special protection measures for children. (1)
  • In 2000, the United Nations adopted an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The protocol prohibits the forced recruitment of children under the age of 18 or their use in hostilities. To date, it has been ratified by more than 110 countries. (4)
  • The ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor prohibits the forced or compulsory recruitment of children under the age of 18 for use in armed conflict. It has been ratified by over 150 countries. (4)
  • For the first time the Annual Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict (A/64/742-S/2010/181) includes a list of the most persistent violators for recruiting and using children—those who have been in the annexes of in the Secretary-General’s report for at least five years. (5)
  • Another breakthrough of the 2010 Annual report is the listing of state and non-state parties to conflict who have killed and maimed and raped and used sexual violence against children. (5)


What is being done to assist current and ex-child soldiers in the field?

  • In some countries, former child soldiers have access to rehabilitation programs to help them locate their families, get back into school, receive vocational training, and re-enter civilian life. However, many children have no access to such programs. They may have no way to support themselves and are at risk of re-recruitment. (4)
  • In the last 10 years, the majority of DDR programs have taken place in sub-Saharan Africa with support from peacekeeping operations. (3) p.27
  • DDR efforts are overall inadequate, and many children have not received the assistance needed to successfully return to their families and communities. (3) p.27
  • Even though girl soldiers have been present in almost every non-international conflict, reports from national DDR programs show very low girl participation, with average levels between 8-15%. For example, in Liberia about 3.000 girls were demobilized in a DDR process that ended in 2004. However, 8,000 girls were excluded, did not register, and received no support. (3) p.28
  • More attention is needed on resources directed at community-based programs which are sensitive to the needs of returning child soldiers but are also designed to benefit all conflict-affected children.” (3) p.31
  • Girls are often deliberately or inadvertently excluded from DDR programs. Girl soldiers are frequently subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence as well as being involved in combat and other roles. In some cases they are stigmatized by their home communities when they return. DDR programs should be sensitively constructed and designed to respond to the needs of girl soldiers. (2)
  • Gender specific outreach programs are need to give attention to the babies and children of girl soldiers (3) p.31