Meet Oumar. Oumar lived with his family in the ancient city of Goa in Northern Mali where he attended school. One day, the commander of the local armed group visited Oumar’s school and tried to recruit the young students by telling tales of opportunity and success. Oumar’s teacher thought that the students were too young to fight and was alarmed by this armed group’s request. The teacher instructed the students not to join and scolded the recruiter.
Eventually violence and armed conflict engulfed Oumar’s community. It was not long before Oumar’s school was attacked and his teacher was killed. Oumar’s family was in desperate need for money and unable to pay for Oumar to attend school in another community. The local armed group made it known that it would pay families up to $600 dollars if they supplied a child to the group.
Without his parent’s permission, Oumar joined the group in an effort help support his family. However, once he joined, Oumar learned that the promise of money was a lie. He was fed regularly but did not receive any wages.
Oumar, due to his small stature, was not forced to fight on the frontline, rather he was used as a messenger and ferried messages between unit commanders. This task proved very difficult and laborious. Oumar was often required to run messages during the heat of battle leaving him exposed to incoming machine gun and mortar fire.
Oumar proved particularly good at navigating the many small, ancient passages in Goa. However, after months of running messages, Oumar became very tired and suffered from a gunshot wound to his leg and chronic blistering on his feet.
One day while Oumar was carrying a message from one camp to another he was intercepted by UN forces and taken back to their base where he was handed off to a child protection agency. After receiving medical attention Oumar was able to contact his Aunt and now lives with her in Timbuktu.
Who is a Child Soldier?
The Paris Principles on Children and Armed Conflict
The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child soldier using the 2007 Paris Principal and Guidelines on Children Affected by Armed Conflict. Using the definition within the Paris Principles of a child used and associated with armed groups, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child soldier as:
“Any person below 18 years of age who is or has been recruited or used by an armed group in any capacity including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking part or has taken a direct part in direct hostilities”
and Recommended Readings
Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict Mali Country Page: Webpage Link
Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Mali: Report Link
Conclusions on children and armed conflict in Mali: Report Link
Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict 2014 Report of the Secretary General: Report Link
Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict 2013 Report of the Secretary General: Report Link
Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict: Where are they? The situation of Children and Armed Conflict in Mali: Report Link
Amnesty International: Mali: Preliminary findings of a four-week mission: Serious human rights abuses continue: Report Link
U.S. Department of Labor: Mali | 2014 findings on the worst form of labour: Webpage Link
BBC: Mali Islamists ‘buying child soldiers, imposing Sharia’: News Link
IBT: France’s War in Mali: Child Soldiers on the Frontline: News Link
Not every child soldier carries a gun
In conflicts where child soldiers are used, many are employed in the role a messenger role. Messengers play a critical role in armed groups as they offer a means to communicate with different factions of the group and coordinate activities, including attacks, meetings, as well as the sharing of tactical information.
Children are specifically used as messengers for a number of reasons. Due to a child’s small stature they are able to move more effectively around a battlefield and often present a smaller target for incoming fire than their adult counterparts. Due to their unwavering obedience, children will often go into areas that their adults will not be willing to go, even when the risk of death is high. Lastly, children are unassuming allowing them to move more freely in villages and populated areas without raising suspicion.
However, the use of children as messengers presents a number of challenges to the armed groups that choose to use them. Due to their lack of physical development children are susceptible to injury and become fatigued more so than their adult counterparts. As well, depending on the message a child carries, there is the possibility that they could reveal vital information about an armed group, knowingly or unwittingly, to the group’s opposition.