It’s almost impossible to know the exact figure but it’s estimated there are 300,000 children in armed groups around the world.
Not all are actually used as soldiers – the more accurate term for them is Children Associated with Armed Forces And Groups (CAAFAG).
Some are used as porters, cooks, spies, or ‘wives’ for fighters.
Most people think that children are only exploited by rebel militias – they are often also recruited by state armed forces.
The children are most often kidnapped, but sometimes they are manipulated or indoctrinated, or promised money or a chance of a better life.
In reality the risks to children in armed groups is huge, and the after-effects can last a lifetime.
Even if children are released or escape, they may find their families have been killed in conflict – or sometimes the children are rejected by their own communities, especially girls who have had babies with soldiers.
What we're doing
We are committed to helping release children from armed groups and supporting them to go back to their families, schools and communities.
Children need safety and appropriate care while their families are being traced or a long-term solution found. Otherwise there’s a serious risk of abduction or re-recruitment.
In the Central African Republic we’re supporting children who have been released from armed groups by finding interim foster carers while their families are being traced.
We provide household items like extra mattresses and cooking utensils, and offer support and guidance for the foster families on how best to care for these children and the issues they face.
The children are encouraged to participate in psychosocial support, such as group activities with other boys or girls who have been in armed groups.
They can share experiences and develop life-skills, such as conflict resolution, positive decision-making and planning for a positive future. Children who need more in-depth psychological support are referred to specialist services.
Education and training
School-age children are helped to return to formal education, while older children are given vocational or work-skills training.
We work closely with community-based child protection groups, who often see the challenges on the ground first-hand.
This collaboration can help reduce stigma and rejection of the children by their community.