Children living in war zones are more vulnerable to all kinds of abuses, including being recruited to serve in government forces and opposition armed groups. The use of children in armed conflict is a violation of human rights, a war crime and a worst form of child labour, which by ILO Convention No. 182 is defined as forced or compulsory recruitment of children under the age of 18 to use in armed conflict.
UNICEF defines child soldiers as “any child — boy or a girls — under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind kind or regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity.” According to the Human Rights Watch, thousands of children are currently serving as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. Some of them are as young as 7 years old. Children are often abducted, bribed or recruited by force to join armed groups. However, many of them join out of revenge, desperation, for protection reasons, shelter and food, or as a way out of poverty.
Child soldiers is a worldwide phenomenon, which goes way back in history. In 2000, The United Nations General Assembly adopted The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict as a supplementary protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Wikipedia). The treaty whereby states agree to prohibit the conscription into the military of children under the age of 18 and ensure that military volunteers under the age of 18 are exempted from taking a direct part in hostilities.
According to Child Soldiers International, most of Europe and Africa have now adopted the Straight 18 standard, which prohibits people under the age of 18 to join state armed groups. However, Australia, China, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the USA allow enlistment from the age of 17. Brazil, Canada, and the UK allow enlistment from the age of 16. Children fight on the front lines, participate in suicide missions, act as spies, messengers or bomb makers, serve as human shields and are used for sexual purposes. For example, during the Iran-Iraq war, child soldiers were sent out ahead in waves over minefields.
Children are very useful to armed group for several reasons, as they are trusting, vulnerable, effective, easy to manipulate, fast learners, cheap, easily expandable, persistent — often in combat under the influence of drugs, pose unique challenges to professional armies by adding confusion to battlefields and causing hesitation out of sympathy in opposing forces. When kids survive, in the future they may face many difficulties following being a soldier at such a young age. As soldiers, children often take part or witness horrific atrocities such as rape, beheadings, and burning people alive. Kids live in trauma and may experience various mental health disorders. Many soldiers die and the rest is usually severely maimed. War disrupts child’s development, deprives them from childhood, takes away the opportunity to be educates, and permanently influence one’s future.
These children’s rights are violated on the daily basis and there are many ways in which we can help.