FACT: An estimated 300,000 children under the age of 18 are involved in over 30 conflicts worldwide(1)
FACT: Children are deployed in nearly 75% of all armed combat worldwide(2)
FACT: 80% of children recruited as child soldiers are younger than 15(3)
FACT: Up to 30% of child soldiers are girls(4)
FACT: The youngest reported age of a child soldier is 5 years old(5)
Child soldiers aren’t born – they’re made.
These are children who start out with dreams and aspirations that are quickly ripped away as they kill in order to survive. They are taken from their families and turned into killing machines, unrecognizable to their family and friends. They are taken and hidden, out of sight from those who care about them. Invisible to civilians – they become dependent on the rebels they fight for.
Under international law, the participation of children under 18 in armed conflict is generally prohibited, and the recruitment and use of children under 15 is a war crime. And yet, over 50 countries currently recruit children under age 18 into their armed forces.(6)
Children typically between the ages of 13 and 15 are being recruited and abducted onto the battlefield. Why so young? According to Amnesty International, children are used because they are easier to condition into fearless killing and unthinking obedience. “Their underdeveloped ability to assess danger means they are often willing to take risks and difficult assignments that adults or older teenagers will refuse.”(7)
The advancements in lightweight automatic weaponry are also a contributing factor in the increased use of child soldiers. These weapons are simple to operate and can easily be handled by children.
FROM THE HOME FRONT
TO THE BATTLEFIELD
Many children living in war torn communities experience numerous traumatic events such as displacement from their home and loss or death of family members. These factors make them susceptible to the tactics of a recruiter. Here are several reasons a child might choose to join the militia:
Promise of food, income or security
Avenge the death of his or her family
Agreement with the group’s ideology
In some instances the child may even be handed over by their family. “Warlords in Afghanistan
have employed a quota system in which they demand that villages each hand over a certain number
Many children have no choice. Rebels will invade a village for the purpose of abducting children to be
initiated as soldiers. The children are then restrained and made to watch as their families are brutally
tortured and murdered.
In Uganda, rural families known as “night commuters” are leaving their homes before nightfall and
traveling to the villages to sleep in the streets or bushes for fear of having their children abducted.
Parents and children will intentionally disband and sleep in locations unknown to each other. This
is to ensure that the parents cannot disclose the location of the child should a rebel try to forcibly
get the information.(10)
“Somebody being shot in front of you, or you yourself shooting somebody became just like drinking a glass of water – Ishmael Beah”
Beah is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and has spoken to various governmental bodies about the plight of children affected by war. He is also the head of the Ishmael Beah Foundation, dedicated to helping former child soldiers find new lives by reintegrating into society.
the plight of children affected by war
The initiation into military ranks is both physically and emotionally grueling. Children are run through brutal training regimens with little sleep or food. This leaves them malnourished and exhausted. Too exhausted to flee or fight.
Children are often required to commit acts of violence such as rape and killing of escapees, civilians and even family members. This initiation is used to keep children from escaping, as they have been “stigmatized” for having killed a member of the community and can no longer return to their villages. Many are given drugs to remove inhibitions toward violence and deaden the effects of conscience. These children then become dependent on the military to provide them food, shelter, drugs and even psychological support. The military becomes their new family.
LIBERIA: Momo (age 10)
“…We had to go fight on the front. The days we fought we got food. But if we didn’t go to the front, we weren’t given anything to eat. I fought through the entire war. I don’t know if I killed people, but I fired a lot. I didn’t enjoy it but I had to do it because I had nothing to eat. I was afraid, but when they gave me drugs, I was brave.”
BURMA: Khin Maung Than (age 13)
“We captured about fifteen women and children. . . three babies and four others who were under eighteen. They took the babies away from their mothers. We gathered them in one place and sent a report to headquarters by radio. . . . The order that came over the radio was to kill them all. . . . Then six of the corporals loaded their guns and shot them. They fired on auto. The women had no time to shout. I saw it. I felt very bad because there were all these people in front of me, and they killed them all. Their bodies were left there. The soldiers were holding the babies and the babies were crying. Two of them were less than a year old, maybe nine or ten months. One was maybe fourteen or fifteen months old. After the mothers were killed they killed the babies. Three of the privates killed them. They swung them by their legs and smashed them against a rock. I saw it.”(12)
Out of the Shadow of War
(Girls in Liberia)
Children are often given the most dangerous tasks, such as leading near-suicidal “human wave” attacks, clearing mine fields, and being deployed as suicide bombers. Because of their youth and inexperience, child soldiers are often used to attack civilians who are easier to overpower than trained adult soldiers.(14)
These children become the very backbone of the rebel groups. They are perfect soldiers, desensitized to death, murder and most forms of violence. Robbed of their childhoods – but ready for battle.
Child soldiers are being used around the world.
We want to give credit where credit is due – we cannot find the online location where we initially found these maps. So.. if you created these beautiful maps please contact us, we would love to give you the credit!
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO STOP THIS?
The outrage of this heinous crime against our children has caught the attention of the world’s policy makers. In 2010, the United States passed the Child Soldier Protection Act, threatening to cut U.S. military assistance to countries that continue to enlist or force children into military service.(15)
Additionally, the United Nations took a hard stand on the use of children under age 18 to fight in armed conflicts. Article 38 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states: Governments must do everything they can to protect and care for children affected by war. Children under 15 should not be forced or recruited to take part in a war or join the armed forces. The Convention’s Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict further develops this right, raising the age for direct participation in armed conflict to 18 and establishing a ban on compulsory recruitment for children under 18.(16)
Numerous governmental and private agencies have been formed with the commission to end the deployment of child soldiers. These new agencies are providing much needed public awareness and specialized programming for rescued child soldiers. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Progams (DDR’s), have proven effective in assisting former child soldiers with assimilation back into society.
Every organization, every program, every action to eradicate the use of child soldiers matters. It’s time that the world’s invisible children are seen. The plight of child soldiers cannot remain hidden – out of sight. It is time to say “WE SEE YOU,” you are not invisible any more.
Child Soldier Footnotes
Justice Society would like to thank Marie Birnbaum for her work as a contributing writer for this article.
1. “FACT SHEET: A summary of the rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” UNICEF. n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
2. “Child Soldiers the Shadow of their Existence.” War Child International Network. n.d. Web. 29 Jan 2013.
3. “Child Soldiers the Shadow of their Existence.” War Child International Network. n.d. Web. 29 Jan 2013.
4. “FAQ’s.” Child Soldiers International. n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
5. Muth, Rachel. “Child Soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army: Fators in the Rehabilitation and Reintegration Process.” Thesis submitted to George Mason University. 2008. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
7.”Child Soldiers” UNICEF. n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
8. “Hidden Scandal, Secret Shame: Torture and Ill-Treatment of Children.” Amnesty International. 2000. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
6. Barnett, Errol.“Ex-child-soldier: ‘Shooting became just like drinking a glass of water.‘”CNN, African Voices. 09 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.
9. Steele, Michelle. “Child Soldiers.” Vision, Insights and New Horizons. 2008. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
10. “Night Commuters in Northern Uganda.” World Vision Web.28 Jan. 2013.
11. “Lesson Plan: Child Soldiers.”War Child. n.d. Web.28 Jan. 2013.
12. “Testimonies from “My Gun Was As Tall as Me”: Child Soldiers in Burma.” Human Rights Watch. 16 Oct. 2002. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
13. “Out of the Shadow of War.” PlanInternationaltv. 18 Jun.2008. Web. 29 Jan 2013.
14. “International Relations and Security Network: Special Report.” ISN, ETH Zurich. n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
15.”New law restricts U.S. tax dollars from funding use of child soldiers abroad.” Worldvision.org. World Vision Enews. Jan 2009. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
16. “FACT SHEET: A summary of the rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” UNICEF. n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.