Between 250.000 and 300.000 is estimated number of child soldiers in the past year based on United Nations (UN) report from June this year.
Children are taken from schools, families, kidnapped on the streets and exploited in order to serve as combatants, porters, spies, cooks, human mine detectors, shields, psychological weapon, suicide bombers and sex slaves. Every year the number surprises and new lives even as young as seven years old are put into danger and on the first front lines of fighting. One needs to take into account that in reality this number is even bigger because of widespread underreporting.
The UN reported of grave violations committed against children during the armed conflict in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Palestine, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syrian Arab republic, Yemen, India, Nigeria, Philippines and Thailand just to mention some. The organization has made a list of more than 50 parties that recruit child soldiers. The list is combined of governments and non-state actors. Parties to conflict that recruit and use children are listed by the Secretary-General in the annexes of his annual report on children and armed conflict. The worst countries based on the number of child solders correspond to the most restless territories and in countries where wars are waging and where human rights violations are happening on daily bases. Mass abductions, including children had in past year increased and had led to killing and maiming, recruitment and use, or sexual violence by armies, paramilitaries and rebel groups. The 2014 List on 2014 trafficking persons report from US Department of state includes the government of following countries: Burma, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen that have recruited children in 2014.
Children are the most vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation and forced recruitment in the various conflicts that are being waged around the world today. They are maiming and exposed to killing, sexual violence, denial of humanitarian assistance, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals are common violations of international human rights law and last but not least they are being recruited. They have support or combat roles. The term child solder defines a person, regardless of sex under 18 years old, who takes a direct or indirect (cook, porter, messenger, medic, guard, sex slave) part in hostilities of governmental or non-governmental forces. The recruitment can be forced or voluntary. They can be paid, promised a better life, there for revenge; honor or they have no other choice. Data shows that war torn Africa has the largest number of child soldiers. US Department of State has released a report for the year 2014, which is raising concerns with facts such as 14 years is the average of a child soldier, 40% of child soldiers are girls, 23 conflicts involve child soldiers and 59 number of groups, the number of child soldiers has remained constant for 25 years.
Based on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the world all of the countries have limit of the required ages of voluntary and obligatory military service, not including 19 countries that have no defence forces or very limited military forces. Worlds accepted years of starting military career as obligation is 18, even though some countries still have lower census. Younger as 18 and by definition of adult in many states still children, have voluntary military service with 17 years in Algeria, Australia and Canada with parental consent, Germany, Jamaica, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines and Saudi Arabia. Even younger with 16 years voluntary military service exists in Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, India, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and in United Kingdom with parental consent. Cuba is based on CIA reports the only country with compulsory military service starting with 17 years.
The numbers of new child soldier recruitment represented in UN report are astonishing. 68 children, of which not all cases are verified and a lot of them not reported to authorities have been recruited as child soldiers in Afghanistan, also to carry out suicide bomb attacks. Underage was seen in police forces and among Taliban. The numbers are concerning in Central African Republic were 464 new cases of recruitment was verified, and because of limited monitoring capacity underreporting also presents problems. Myanmar had ranked high with more than 357 cases of child recruitment. Somalia has seen 819 child recruited by Al-Shabaab, the national army and other militia. Rise in mention topic was seen in Colombia with 343 children. South Sudan crisis has resulted in more than 80 new recruitments. Around 60 was the number in Sudan.
The recruitment and use of children in combat have become commonplace in the Syrian Arab Republic with more than 280 new recruitments. In the Democratic Republic of Congo 241 new cases of recruitment were reported. The deadliest year in Iraq since 2007 was last year, and resulted in more than 67 new child soldier recruitments. Palestine was among those that have in the last year recruited child into combatants, with much fewer numbers than countries mentioned before. Militia groups have recruited child soldiers in Lebanon, Lord’s Resistance Army in DR Congo and in South Sudan, in Mali, Yemen, India, Nigeria with Boko Haram, Philippines and Thailand. What is alarming is also recruitment of children by state organs such as military and police. Such cases were reported in Afghanistan and its National and local police, Somalia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen.
Recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law – treaty and custom – and is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. Many international conventions and even international law exist in the area of child protection, but unfortunately no paper can prevent the harsh reality some children are living in. The Rome statute of the International Criminal Court since 1998 defines the recruitment of children into military as a war crime and a crime against humanity. Further, children are protected by United Nations Charter from 1945 and with Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. Important documents regarding protection of children are The Fourth Geneva Convention from 1949 and its two additional Protocols from 1977 Geneva Convention Additional Protocol I and II. International labor law with international Labor Organization (ILO) had declared in 1999 with Convention 182 that worst compulsory and forced recruitment of anyone under the age of 18 in the armed conflict as one of the worst forms of child labor.
Based on The Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) from 1989 states shall ensure that persons under 15 age do not take a direct part in hostilities. Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which was adopted and signed in 2002, National armed forces can accept volunteers into their armed forces below the age of 18, but states Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities. Non-state actors and guerrilla forces are forbidden from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose. Many international organizations are accepting conventions and resolutions in order to protect children among them are also UNICEF with it’s a World Fit for Children from 2002 and UN Millennium Declaration from the year 2000. It is sad and unbelievable that many children in the world do not get a share of childhood they deserve. With less than 200 countries existing today in the world, many have not ratified, signed or did both signed and ratified but do not oblige international and national excepted obligations regarding child protection. Progress has been seen in lower or mostly no recruitment of child soldiers by states authorities, unfortunately than cannot be said for other groups and organizations. In some cases, countries are unfit to protect and prevent heart breaking stories of more than 300.000 children recruited as child soldiers.