|In 1998, Mohammed, 14 years old, poses
with his AK-47 in his hand, at the doorway of his home in the
old part of Taiz, in southern Yemen.
©UNICEF/HQ98-0995/ Giacomo Pirozzi.
International efforts to address the issue of child soldiers have been growing. The UN's General Assembly and Security Council have agreed on many occasions that the demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of child soldiers must be included into any peace negotiation and peace agreement. And human rights treaties that aim to protect children from abuse and exploitation have been a powerful force in getting governments to commit to new standards. In 1989, the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which details children’s basic human rights and marks the first time an age limit was established for recruiting children into the military. Article 38 of the CRC states that governments should not recruit any person younger than 15 years old into their armed forces. In 2001, the UN Human Rights Commission drafted a new treaty that raised the age at which someone could be recruited to18.
However, despite these efforts children under 18 continue to serve in both government armies and armed opposition groups. Some children are kidnapped or forced to serve; others join up hoping to find food and shelter, help their families, or improve their lives.
Because of their emotional and physical immaturity, children are easy to manipulate 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 line of combat or into minefields ahead of older troops. Some have been used for suicide missions or forced to commit atrocities against their own families and neighbours. Others serve as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Many child soldiers, mostly girls, are also sexually abused.
Children are killed and wounded at far higher rates than their adult comrades. Those who survive often suffer trauma, injury, abuse, and psychological scarring from the violence and brutality they experience. Some are rejected by their families and communities. Most lose the opportunity to acquire an education, job skills, or any hope for the future.
The use of children to fight adults' wars is not limited to a single country or continent, but has become a worldwide problem. The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, though children are also used as soldiers by governments and armed groups in many countries in the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East. However, the problem is not limited to developing countries. Industrialised countries facing personnel shortfalls have also increased efforts to attract young recruits.