What is happening?
About 300,000 children are used by armies around the world in 36
different war zones. They are recruited by both by governments
and by military opposition forces to perform different tasks.
They are sent into combat, they are trained to use explosives and
they are made to work as spies, messengers, porters, cooks and
are sometimes sexually abused and exploited. Sometimes they are
forced to kill their own family members, friends or neighbours.
In 2004 wars ended in Afghanistan, Angola and Sierra Leone and
40,000 children were demobilized, but in the same year more than
25,000 were drawn into conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan
Why do children fight?
Children are often forced to join military groups by adult soldiers.
Sometimes they are kidnapped. Many children are desperately poor
and choose to become soldiers in order to find food, clothing,
shelter and protection. Others are impressed by the seeming
glamour of war,
the opportunity to use real guns and the accompanying sense of
power. Some children see it as a chance to get revenge against
hold responsible for the deaths of their families and friends.
Some orphaned or isolated children see the possibility of companionship
through belonging to the army.
What happens to them?
Many children undergo terrible
experiences. Because they are young they are easily bullied, intimidated
and brainwashed by older
soldiers. They often witness terrible acts or are forced
to kill or injure
people themselves. Some modern weapons are so light that
even a 10 year-old can carry them and be sent into battle. In some
guns are cheaper than books. Children who are captured have
been killed, tortured or imprisoned by governments as well
opposition groups. There are now many projects which have
been set up to help children who have undergone these ordeals. Children
can receive care, education and training and hopefully be
to return to everyday life. Often communities as well have
to be educated and supported otherwise they will reject the
returning children. Many international organisations such as UNICEF,
the Children and Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers,
working towards improving the lives of former child soldiers.
is being done to change the situation?
All around the world people have been working to try to stop this
Governments have slowly come around to recognising that something
must be done internationally. In May 2000 the UN adopted an amendment
to the Convention of the Rights of the Child which outlaws the
use of children in armed conflict and strengthens their legal
protection. So far 142 countries have signed up to the agreement.
Action by the UN and other international organisations is definitely
part of the solution but governments must also tackle the huge
world wide problems of poverty and violence which create the
conditions in which so many children’s lives are devastated.