SOME THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CHILD SOLDIERS

The use of children in conflict is a horrendous human rights abuse and also allows for conflicts to last longer. I wrote my dissertation on the reintegration of girl child soldiers in Colombia. It's a fascinating and important issue that we need to pay attention to.
  1. A child soldier is "any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. This does not only refer to a child who is taking part or has taken...
    ...a direct part in hostilities." Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, 2007. This is the internationally agreed upon definition.
  2. Hard facts regarding child soldiers are nearly impossible to determine, however, an estimated 250,000 child soldiers exist today.
    The illegal nature of the use of children in conflicts means few groups are willing to report children in their groups. However, the most oft cited figure regarding child soldiers is 250,000-300,000.
  3. Both State and Non-State Actors recruit and use children in armed conflict.
  4. Child soldiers exist around the world and fill a variety if roles.
    Most people think of Africa when they think of child soldiers but in fact, they exist is over 30 conflicts around the world. Countries with child soldiers include (but aren't limited to) Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Sri Lanka and Syria.
  5. An estimated 30-40% of child soldiers worldwide are girls.
    Girl child soldiers aren't just "sex slaves" or "bush wives" many actively participate in fighting, spying, assassinations and other roles.
  6. Former child soldiers are NOT a "lost generation"!!
    With proper support and reintegration services, former child soldiers can reintegrate into society and go on to lead fulfilling lives and actively contribute to their communities. The needs of former child soldiers, and appropriate methods of support, will vary by individual and location. However, individualized services and emotional support are critical. As is acknowledging the agency and strength of the child/youth.
  7. Not all child soldiers become so via abduction.
    A variety of circumstances can lead to a child ending up with an armed group. While this includes forced abductions, it may also include "voluntary" recruitment due vulnerability and a lack of opportunities, poverty, abuse at home ect. The children are definitely still victims and deserving of equal support, but the reason(s) for their joining cannot be overlooked in their reintegration. Similarly, the agency of the child no matter how they end up with the groups cannot be ignored.