Tag Archive for: Child Soldiers


Ending the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Around the world children as young as ten years old fight in armed conflicts. According to the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1999, recruiting children as soldiers is one of the worst forms of child labour. Despite the practice representing a horrendous violation of their fundamental rights, however, currently, more than 300,000 children are members of armed groups and forces.

After being recruited by abduction or coercion, children are terrorised into obedience and deployed in direct combat, or assigned support and logistical roles. The recruitment of children under eighteen is forbidden by international law, but regardless the crime thrives in several regions of the world ravaged by war.

The UN’s Children and armed conflict report, released in June 2019, identified twenty countries where cases of child recruitment as soldiers have been verified. The report named the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen as the states where the problem is the most serious. Amongst them, the highest number of conscripted children could be observed in Somalia with 2,300 child soldiers, followed by Nigeria with 1,947 of them.

Methods of Recruitment

In countries where law enforcement is poor and the political situation unstable, children are vulnerable to forced recruitment. The majority of child soldiers is recruited by non-state extremist groups, which deceive the youth by showing them false images of prosperity and happiness within the organisations’ ranks. These groups specifically target and indoctrinate children because they are easy to manipulate and control.

In societies where children are being recruited as soldiers, they and their families often live in poverty. Lured by the promises of good salaries in militant groups, children volunteer to join to help their loved ones. On top of that, tired of living in conflict zones, children sometimes think that joining armed groups will provide them with shelter, protection and safety. Often, they become child soldiers to escape maltreatment at home or abuses by state’s forces.

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10 Facts about Child Soldiers…

Boys play with a wooden gun used in re-enactment dramas, which can be part of rehabilitation therapy sessions. Many are familiar with how to handle the weapon.  Photographs from World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu: daily life under World Vision’s care and reunions with their families; portraits to accompany Nigel Marsh interviews.  Please refer to Nigel Marsh Scribe stories and to the Winter 2005 WVUS magazine cover story.  Used in Winter 2005 World Vision Magazine - Pg. 12-13  Africa  digital  color  horizontal

Boys play with a wooden gun used in re-enactment dramas, which can be part of rehabilitation therapy sessions. Courtesy of World Vision

  • How do you define a ‘child soldier’? The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (1990) defined childhood as under 18 years of age. In 1997 an International conference in Cape Town adopted the definition, “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…” A key 2nd Conference in Paris 2007[1] concluded with a definition of, “any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or 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 or has taken a direct part in hostilities.”
  • The Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 of the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimated there are 300,000-plus child soldiers at any point in time[2]. Forty percent of those are thought to be girls[3]. Most are aged between 13-17 years, but they are accounts of children as young as 7.
  • Why do they join how do they become child soldiers? Many children are forcible recruited and brain washed. Children are cheap requiring less pay and food, available in times of conflict when schools, homes and other places of infrastructure are destroyed, convenient as they are teachable and vulnerable to both political persuasion and violence – particularly when their primary care giver is threatened, violated or killed.
  • We often view this as a human rights issue, but is it a peace issue? War intensifies poverty and poverty reduces or destroys the power of choice and increases vulnerability to extreme political agenda. Quickly the gap between an active civilian life and one of organized violence is bridged.
  • How do children evolve from being normal, moral children to brutal soldiers able to carry out atrocities? The training varies across geographical areas, but common threads include a baptism of fire approach into a culture of violence, fueling a culture of control and obedience that is often rewarded by greater access to food or health care for example. Isolation increases the culture of fear amongst the children and unquestioning obedience. Following orders is rewarded by the protection of ones life. An encouragement to devalue and dehumanize the enemy creates the ability for commanders to lead the children in to a ‘new moral space[4] where the rules are totally different and following them is the only thing that guarantees their protection. Over time most children adapt to their new set of values and often when this is paired with a political awakening to explain their poverty this becomes a compelling motivation for committing violence.
  • Geographically the issue is global. All states should have an interest in the protection of children from recruitment as child soldiers. From Angola, to the DRC, to Colombia, to Afghanistan, to Indonesia, to Nepal, to Russia, to Iran and to the Sudan to name but a few – every continent has at some point been affected.
  • The implementation of national Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs following the end of armed conflict involves soldiers turning in their weapons, the formal disbanding of military groups including the surrender of uniforms and the release of combatants and finally the longer term process of reintegration to civilian life, finding viable roles for former soldiers and places of education. These programs are as necessary for children as adult soldiers. More tailor-made programs are require and a greater sharing of knowledge of effective programs would radically increase their success.
  • Attacking poverty is critically important. Lack of educational and vocational opportunity is a major contributory factor for children remaining with their role and identity as a soldier. Continuing as a child soldier provides them with an infrastructure within which to be fed and survive.
  • What can be done to protect vulnerable children? Prevention and protection must be sought and struggled for. Global campaigns to strengthen child protection must be pursued. Research that identifies effective DDR programs must be conducted. Strengthening the International Criminal Court and its ability to prosecute child recruiters; building into international peace agreements provision for children’s DDRs and preventing further recruitment and penalties administered by the UN Security Council on countries that trade weapons with countries that exploit children as soldiers are also critical to solving this problem.
  • How can we increase the effectiveness of intervention programs? We can do a better job of gathering success stories of prevention and rehabilitation and disseminating them. There are some incredible stories of success from which we can take courage and continue to move forward with hope and purpose.


[1] Co-hosted by UNICEF and the French Government.

[2] Child Soldiers, From Violence to Protection, Michael Wessells, Harvard Press. Page 9.

[3] Save The Children UK 2005.

[4] Child Soldiers, From Violence to Protection, Michael Wessells, Harvard Press. Page 65.

This list was compiled by CLC Contributing Writer Deborah Andrews.


Today is the Day to Think about the Plight of the World’s 300,000 Child Soldiers

Today is an important day if you care about the welfare of children. Advocates have named February 12 “International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers” to highlight one of the worst forms of child labor. It’s hard to imagine that in 2013 the use of child soldiers is alive and thriving, but the BBC estimates that there are 300,000 child soldiers internationally. This number includes children of elementary school age who are handed automatic weapons and asked to kill, as well as others who are used for slave labor to support armies. Since January 2011, child soldiers have been used in at least 19 countries.

Many of the children suffer the worst forms of psychological warfare from their captors, who in many cases break them down by forcing them to kill or maim their friends or family. Many girls are sexually assaulted and forced to serve as sexual slaves. Many child victims are given drugs to keep them compliant. Their years of enforced service often produce intense psychological scarring that makes it hard to return to their communities. In some cases, they are shunned by their villages. Hear one girl’s compelling story in this YouTube video.

The Child Labor Coalition has tracked dozens of stories regarding the use of child soldiers over the last year and engages with its members to perform advocacy to reduce the use of child soldiers. Most recently, the warfare in Mali led to the recruitment of child soldiers, including children as young as 12. In early January, the United Nations decried the use of child soldiers in the Central African Republic, and in India, reports emerged that the militant group, the Garo National Liberation Army was using children in a variety of roles to support combat, including possibly the use of armed children. In early December, 2012, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on two “March 23 (M23)” leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for allegedly using child soldiers.

Not all the news has been bad. In June 2012, Burma made significant strides in reducing its use of child soldiers when it released an action plan to tackle the problem. In 2012, Yemeni authorities said they were committed to stopping the use of children in the military.

The challenges governments face to end the use of child soldiers are often formidable, however. A February 6th Huffington Post blog by Jake Scobey-Thal noted that despite some progress, child soldiers are still being used in Burma and cited the International Labour Organization that their numbers may be as high as 5,000.

Two members of the Child Labor Coalition, World Vision and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have been leaders in the effort to pressure the US government into abiding by a congressional law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits military aid to countries that use child soldiers. They’ve also provided a valuable service with early warnings when civil strife reaches the point that children begin to be dragged into military conflicts as they have been recently in Mali, Syria and the DRC.

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Human Rights Watch’s Jo Becker: The U.S. Can Do More to Keep Children Off the Battlefield

[This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post on 10/04/2012]

President Barack Obama announced on Friday that, for the second year in a row, it was withholding portions of U.S. military assistance from the Democratic Republic of Congo because of its continued use of child soldiers. The U.S. also said it wouldn’t train a Congolese light infantry battalion until Congo signed an action plan with the United Nations to end its use of child soldiers. U.S. officials have repeatedly urged the Congolese government to address the issue.

The pressure seems to be working. After seven years of foot-dragging, today Congo finally signed the U.N. plan, which will require Congo to end child recruitment, demobilize children in its forces and allow U.N. verification visits to its barracks.

For years, Congo has ranked among the worst countries for child soldiers. At the height of the conflict there, the U.N. estimated that as many as 30,000 children were participating in the war. Today, hundreds each year are still recruited in eastern Congo, by both government and rebel forces. Children who have escaped or been released often fear they will be forced into service again.

The U.S. has withheld assistance from Congo under a landmark law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits U.S. military assistance to governments using child soldiers. In contrast it has, often on national security grounds, allowed other governments using child soldiers to continue receiving such aid, without conditions. Three examples — Chad, South Sudan and Yemen — show how the U.S. has missed opportunities to protect children from military service.

In Chad, government and rebel forces recruited thousands of children in a proxy war with Sudan that ended in early 2010. With U.S. pressure, the Chadian government signed a U.N. action plan in June 2011 to end child recruitment and demobilize all children from its forces. Child recruitment significantly dropped, with no new cases recorded in 2011. In June, the U.S. took Chad off its list of countries subject to possible sanctions under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, despite reports that children remained in Chad’s forces.

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Burma/Myanmar Releases 42 Child Soldiers, Vows to End Practice

September 05, 2012 [from Voice of America]

The Burmese military has released 42 child soldiers from its ranks, as part of efforts to end the recruitment of underage fighters in the Southeast Asian country.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper says army officials handed the children over to their parents and guardians at a ceremony in Rangoon on Monday.

The newspaper says Burmese officials also have vowed to rid the armed forces of all child soldiers within 18 months, in accordance with a United Nations agreement signed in June.

The U.N. says at least eight other armed groups, apart from the government armed forces, recruit and use child soldiers in Burma, including several rebel and separatist groups.

Since taking power last year, Burma’s nominally civilian government has undertaken several reforms, including easing media restrictions, allowing more freedom to opposition groups, and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

But rights groups and activists have said that, despite the political and economic reforms, there have been no significant changes in human rights abuses carried out by Burma’s military, particularly in rebel-dominated areas.


Sudan: Country Dismisses U.S. Report on Human Rights Violation

[from AllAfrica.com]

Juba — The government of South Sudan has strongly denounced the US department of states report on human rights on the country and instead reiterated its commitment to protect the fundamental human rights of citizens in the word’s newest nation.

A report released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Right and Labor pins documents a series of extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and other inhumane treatment of civilians that allegedly occurred in South Sudan between January to December 2011.

Approximately 250,000 people, it says, were displaced as a result of the conflict reportedly emanating from fighting between South Sudan army (SPLA) and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), clashes with renegade militia groups or cattle-related disputes among communities. Read more


DR Congo: Hoping for a Brighter Future

By Christian Kilundu [from World Vision—A CLC member]

He was in primary school when he first met the rebels. They arrived and promised big salaries. The poverty and insecurity the children lived in could be escaped, they swore.

Of course, once inside the rebel group, life wasn’t as it was promised.

In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), rebels continue to recruit children into their fighting parties as a war continues to unfold against the country’s army. In the 15 years of fighting, an estimated 5 million people have been killed, and more than 1.7 million have fled the area.

Boys who are not yet teenagers have been lured into the rebel groups and are used to carry ammunition, food and other supplies before graduating to other activities.

Below, one child recounts his experience inside the rebel armies and his attempt to return to a normal childhood.

“I am Dragon Mike*, I am 17 years old and a former child soldier. Read more


Sudan’s Lost Boys: Our Hopes for a New Country

When South Sudan was created as an independent country in July, it offered a new hope and possibilities for a whole generation whose childhood was blighted by civil war.

Among the victims of Sudan’s conflict were 27,000 boys orphaned by the fighting. Known as the Lost Boys, some were forced to fight as child soldiers, while others fled and became refugees.

An estimated 1.5 million people were killed and another four million were displaced in what became Africa’s longest-running conflict.

The refugees fled to camps in Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries. It was a dangerous journey – many drowned or died from hunger. Others were killed by wild animals. Some of those who survived ended up far away, in countries such as the US. Read more


Darfurian Armed Group Commits to Not Using Child Soliders

Thursday, 6 October 2011, 1:23 pm
Source: UN News

Darfurian Armed Group Makes Commitment to UN to Stop Using Child Soldiers

New York, Oct 5 2011 – A faction of one of the armed groups in Darfur has agreed to prohibit the use of child soldiers in its ranks after discussions with the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Sudanese region (UNAMID), the mission reported today.

The Sudan Liberation Army’s Historical Leadership, a breakaway group of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdel Wahid (SLA/Abdel Wahid), submitted an action plan to the UN through Ibrahim Gambari, the AU-UN Joint Special Representative and head of UNAMID, on 25 September committing to end recruitment and use of child soldiers in compliance with Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict.

The group’s leader, Usman Musa, had in August issued a command order to his faction’s members to stop “recruiting and using children in the ranks of the movement.” His order also prohibited attacks on schools and hospitals and “all behaviour that leads to abuse and violence against children, including sexual abuse and forced marriage.”

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The Terrorized Lives of Somali Child Soldiers

As the rattle of gunfire echoed loudly outside, Mohamed Abdi sat in the corner of a Mogadishu restaurant and wondered aloud how much longer he could survive in one of the world’s most dangerous capitals. “Mogadishu is full of miseries, sometimes you fall into traps and can be abducted by either government forces or insurgents, to fight for their cause.”

The 15-year-old’s father died two years ago and since then life in Somalia has been a daily struggle to support his mother and two brothers who live in a nearby refugee camp. Unlike thousands of his countrymen who have been displaced because of fighting between government forces and Al Shabaab -a militant Islamist group linked to Al Qaeda- Abdi is fortunate in that he recently found work as a waiter. However, it was not so long ago that the youth was fighting in urban warfare.

As Somalia’s civil conflict continues unabated, child soldiering is an issue of growing concern. In a report last month Amnesty International (AI) detailed cases of children as young as nine years being made to take fight in war. The report – In The Line of

Fire: Somalia’s Children Under Attack – exposed the full impact of the on-going conflict on children and said that both Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and Al Shabaab were guilty of gross human rights violations.

“Somalia is not only a humanitarian crisis: it is a human rights crisis and a children’s crisis,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa. “As a child in Somalia, you risk death all the time: you can be killed, recruited and sent to the frontline, punished by Al-Shabaab because you are caught listening to music or ‘wearing the wrong clothes’, be forced to fend for yourself because you have lost your parents or even die because you don’t have access to adequate medical care.”

Abdi rarely leaves his workplace, or ventures onto Mogadishu’s streets, mainly out of fear he might be abducted again by his former captors. It was not long after his father died in 2009 that he was taken by Al Shabaab. He was initially accused of spying for the government and then driven from Mogadishu to a training centre in Marka about 60 miles from the capital. After military training he was moved back to Mogadishu.

“Children do tasks such as spying for the insurgents or the government, it depends on which side they are working with, and they also assemble explosives. I fought in Industrial Street in Mogadishu. While on the frontline one night, I was on guard at our base in Shirkole. It was dark and two of my colleagues on duty fell asleep so I managed to escape,” explained Abdi whose family moved to Mogadishu four years ago from the Bay and Bakol regions of the south Somalia.

The teenager now washes plates and earns 60,000 Somali shillings, the equivalent to US$ 2 per day. He considers himself extremely fortunate as reports from lower Shabelle, Hiram, Middle Shabelle and the lower Jubba regions of Somalia – strongholds of Al-Shabaab- indicate the forced recruitment of children drastically increased after insurgents withdrew from the capital this month to allow aid agencies into the benighted city.

“Children were forcibly dragged from their homes for recruitment even though some of the children were not able to hold a gun,” said Ali Mohamed, a father in the port town of Kismayo whose son is missing, believed to have been taken by Al-Shabaab.

The effect of war has been nothing short of catastrophic and AI said children are also being denied access to education and that many had been killed or injured in indiscriminate attacks carried out in densely populated areas. Education has suffered because school buildings have been destroyed or damaged during fighting in urban areas. In Mogadishu, many schools have closed down as children and teachers fear being killed or injured on their way to school.

“During the 21 years of the military rule ousted in 1991, education was free and orphanage centres were scattered around the country and children were given special care,” said Abdisalam Hared, a secondary school teacher in Mogadishu.

Like many of his peers, Hared is increasingly concerned about the influence radical Islamists hold over children. He said some of his pupils told him he must dress like a Muslim and not wear jeans. Mohamed Abdirahman, another high school teacher, said some pupils have been involved in fighting and have links with the insurgents while others told him their Amirs (group leaders) were calling for them to join the fighting.

“We let them go. Some of them did not come back and were reportedly killed in the frontlines,” Abdirahman added.

Many innocent youngsters have been killed during fighting, including three friends of  Abdifatah Hassan, a high school student in Mogadishu. They were killed in a mortar attack in which two others were wounded.  He said: “Sometimes we are out of schools for months when fighting intensifies in the capital and residents flee in their residential areas, students go with their parents and schools are almost empty.”

In the areas of Mogadishu controlled by Islamists, Al-Shabaab has imposed strict rules and ordered that students should enlist in the fight against the government. The insurgents have banned non-Arabic signs on shops and ordered businesses in the Elasha settlement on the outskirts of the capital to remove English and Somali posters and replace them with billboards in Arabic.

“Even children under the age of thirteen were joined (sic) in the list, we couldn’t stop this and parents often blame on us,” said Ali Mohamed Herzi, principal of an intermediate school at the Elasha settlement which is under Al-Shabaab control.

Al Shabaab is supposed to have left Mogadishu but its fighters are still launching attacks from their city strongholds and their strategy is based on Afghan style hit and run tactics designed for urban warfare. “We are present in the capital and our fighters are here ready to launch the second phase of our war against the infidels and their collaborators,” said Shaekh Ali Mohamoud , a spokesman for Al-Shabaab.

In northern parts of the city – including Deynile, Huriwaa and Suukha Hoolaha where government forces did not fully advance – remnants of Al-Shabaab and their sympathisers launch regular assaults to show their presence. Over the last two weeks more than ten people – including a women and three children aged between 13 to 15 years old – were beheaded in Huriwaa , Suukha Hoolaha and Huriwa districts for allegedly spying for the government, said Omer Ja’fan Abdulle, commissioner of Huriwaa.

Elsewhere, life is dire for hundreds of orphaned children left destitute. UNICEF said at least 2000 children are trying to survive as on the streets of Mogadishu. “We are aware of the difficulties and hardships they are facing” said Shepherd-Johnson, spokesman for UNICEF in Somalia. Aside from the fighting, Somalia is suffering the worst drought and famine in 60 years and nearly two million children under the age of five are currently in need of humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa, Unicef added.