Child soldier. Some words don't belong together.
It's bad enough that children's lives are torn apart by wars they didn't start. But when they're forced into fighting in the conflict themselves, it causes psychological and physical damage that can often never be repaired.
Every child has the right to go to school and to live free from violence. Using kids as soldiers constitutes one of the most horrendous breaches of those rights and it is simply and unequivocally wrong.
Key facts and statistics about child soldiers
- There are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world today.
- It is estimated that 40% of all child soldiers are girls. They are often used as 'wives' (i.e. sex slaves) of the male combatants.
- Many rebel groups use child soldiers to fight the government, but some governments also use child soldiers in armed conflict.
- Not all children take part in active combat. Some are also used as porters, cooks and spies.
- As part of their recruitment, children are sometimes forced to kill or maim a family member - thus breaking the bonds with their community and making it difficult for them to return home.
Where are child soldiers?
Africa has the largest number of child soldiers. Child soldiers are being used in armed conflict in Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan.
In June 2013 The UN set a goal to have no child soldiers anywhere in the world by 2016. There are eight Government armies listed for the recruitment and use of children and six of them have already committed to making their armies child-free. In 2012, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo signed action plans with the United Nations. The previous year, Afghanistan and Chad made similar commitments. Discussions initiated with the Governments of Yemen and Sudan are expected to lead to action plans in the near future.
Why use children as soldiers?
Children are used as soldiers because they are easier to condition and brainwash. They don't eat much food, don't need paying much and have an underdeveloped sense of danger so are easier to send into the line of fire.
As children make up the majority demographic in many conflict-affected countries, there's a constant supply of potential recruits. Due to their size and 'expendability', children are often sent into battle as scouts or decoys, or sent in the first wave to draw the enemy's fire.
What are the effects on children?
The effects on children are felt long after their physical scars have healed and their drug dependencies overcome. Many child soldiers are desensitised to violence - often at a very formative time in their development and this can psychologically damage them for life.
Even when they're set free or escape, many children can't go back home to their families and communities because they've been ostracised from them. They may have been forced to kill a family member or neighbour just so they can never go back. Many girls have babies from their time in the rebel groups and their communities/families don't accept them home.
Most have missed out on school - sometimes for many years. Without an education they have very little future prospects and sometimes return to the rebel groups as they have simply no other way of feeding themselves.
How do child soldiers get recruited?
- Some are abducted from their homes and forced to become soldiers
(a tactic notoriously used by the Lords Resistance Army.)
- A village may be forced to provide a certain number of children as soldiers in exchange for staying safe from attack.
- Some children are volunteered by their parents due to extreme poverty and hunger at home.
- In some rare cases children volunteer to join the fight because of ideological reasons or to avenge the death of their family.
What is War Child doing?
We're helping to get children out of army uniforms and into school ones.
War Child has worked with former child soldiers in Africa for many years. In Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) we're currently helping to reintegrate former child soldiers back into society and into education.
Many child soldiers go through formal Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) programmes when they are free from the armed groups. These programmes tend to focus on the needs of boys but aren't always so sensitive to the specific needs of girls. As a result, girls are often a very vulnerable and marginalised group even among children who are already excluded and rejected by society.
That's why we're focusing our work on girls who have been used as soldiers or their 'wives' in northern Uganda and eastern Congo.
We're providing vital education, counselling and health services for girls - and helping to tackle the huge stigma associated with being a girl soldier. Whilst boys are considered to be dangerous and violent, girls are often seen as 'damaged goods' by their community and family. This is especially true if they have suffered a sexual assault or have given birth to a baby.
Picking up a gun again is often the easiest way of regaining the respect of their community. We're enroling them into school and helping to reunify them with their families if that's deemed to be the best solution. Some of the children find it hard to sit still in a classroom after enduring years of violence and constant relocation in the bush, so we're also providing vocational and skills for independent living where appropriate.
School Child. Some words do belong together.“Anybody who experienced terrible things can also experience great things in life if there is education.”
Juliet, a former child soldier
supported by War Child. Read her story.