Prepared by Professor Michael Klare, Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass. USA
As many as 300,000 children and young people under the age of 18 are currently fighting in conflicts around the world. Hundreds of thousands more have been recruited into armed forces and could be sent into combat at any moment. Although most child soldiers are teenagers, some are as young as 7 years old.
Because of their emotional and physical immaturity, children are easily manipulated and can be drawn into violence that they are too young to resist or understand. Both boys and girls may be sent to the front lines of combat or into minefields ahead of other troops. Some have been used for suicide missions or forced to commit atrocities against their own family and neighbors. Others serve as porters or cooks, guards, messengers, or spies. Child soldiers also may be raped or given to military commanders as sexual slaves. Robbed of their childhood and education, and often left psychologically scarred or physically disabled, the future for those who survive is desperately bleak.
To address this problem, many organizations are working together to establish national and international measures that would prohibit the use if warfare of children and young people under the age of 18. Many of these organizations are associated with the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and, in the United States, the U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
Background Report: Much of the impetus for international work on child soldiers came from the 1996 United Nations report prepared by Graca Machal of Mozambique, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (UN document A/51/306, 26 August 1996).
In this report, it was noted that "One of the most alarming trends in armed conflict is the participation of children as soldiers. Children serve armies in supporting roles, as cooks, porters, messengers and spies. Increasingly, however, adults are deliberately conscripting children as soldiers. Some commanders have even noted the desirability of child soldiers because they are "more obedient, do not question orders and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers."
The report goes on to detail the many traumatic consequences of this practice, and offers a number of proposals for combatting the recruitment of children as soldiers.
Additional Documentation on Child Soldiers: For other reports and documentation on the use of child soldiers, visit the web-site of the Children and Armed Conflict Unit of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex (U.K.).
Country-specific Information on the Use of Child Soldiers: Reports on the practice of individual countries with respect to the recruitment and use of children as soldiers is available for Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe at the website of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Additional information is available at the Children and Armed Conflict Unit of the University of Essex.
A data base on child soldiers is maintained by Swedish Save the Children (Radda Barnen). Additional information on the use of child soldiers and related developments is available from the on-line Children of War Newsletter, also produced by Swedish Save the Children.
Considerable information on child soldiers is available at the on-line library of Amnesty International.
United Nations Actions on Child Soldiers: In response to the report of Graca Machal, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/51/77 (12 Dec. 1996), calling for vigorous efforts to combat the practice of recruiting children as soldiers and established the post of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. Secretary-General Kofi Annan subsequently appointed Mr. Olara A. Otunnu to occupy this post. Since 1997, Mr. Otunnu has undertaken many efforts to persuade combatants to eschew the use of children in warfare. Many documents related to these efforts are available at the page on child soldiers at the web-site of the Special Representative.
On Agust 11, 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1314, calling on member states to take vigorous action to end the use of child soldiers.
The Optional Protocol: Many organizations that oppose the use of children as soldiers are campaigning for the adoption and implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the recruitment and use in warfare of any person younger than eighteen years of age. The Optional Protocol was adopted by the UN General Assembly on May 25, 2000 (General Assembly Resolution A-RES-54-263), and it is now open for signing and ratification. The United States signed the Optional Protocol on July 5, 2000. For a list of the countries that have signed the Optional Protocol, visit the website of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
Jump to: The Optional Protocol
September 2000 Conference on War-Affected Children: On September 10-17, 2000, the Government of Canada sponsored an International Conference on War-Affected Children, which devoted considerable attention to the problem of child soldiers.
Bibliography: A list of books and articles on child soldiers.
Jump to: Bibliography
International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers - A coalition of non-governmental organizations working to pronote the adoption of and adherence to national, regional and international legal standards (including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child) prohibiting the military recruitment and use in hostilities of any person younger than eighteen years of age. Describes campaign activities and provides useful links to other sources of information.
U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers - The U.S. affiliate to the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Describes campaign activities and provides useful links to other sources of information.
Human Rights Watch: Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers - Describes campaign activities and provides links to other sources of information, including Human Rights Watch reports on child soldiers.
Children of War Newsletter, published by Swedish Save the Children: A periodic newsletter on developments affecting the use of children in war, available on-line.
Children and Armed Conflict Unit of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex (U.K.) - Provides information on all aspects of the child soldier problem.
Center for Defense Information: Children and Armed Conflict Project - Provides useful information and links to other organizations.
Amnesty International - Provides considerable information on child soldiers through its on-line library.
Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict - describes the efforts of the United Nations to curb the use of child soldiers
UNICEF - Special focus on war-affected children