2018’s Worst Countries for Child Soldiers
Every year, the U.S. Department of State issues its Trafficking in Persons Report. This report gives an overview of each country’s progress against trafficking and what the United States is doing to eliminate human trafficking across the globe. One form of human trafficking is the use of child soldiers. Child soldiers are individuals under the age of 18 used for any military purpose, whether that be for acts of violence and killing, or even as cooks, messengers, spies or porters. Since 2016, over 18 different military conflicts around the world involved child soldiers.

The 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report includes a list of governments implicit in the use of child soldiers, and under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA), the United States restricts military support for countries listed. This article will provide an overview of child recruitment and use in each country on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List.

10 Countries That Use Child Soldiers

  1. Myanmar – Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, has a long history of using child soldiers in warfare. The highest rate of child recruitment took place from 1990 to 2005. However, in 2012, the country signed an Action Plan with the U.N. to end the use of child soldiers. Since then, 849 children and young adults have been released. Though Myanmar has a long way to go to completely eradicate child soldiers in the country, the government is working to align tribal groups and the Tatmadaw with the U.N.’s Action Plan.

  2. The Democratic Republic of the Congo – The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) also signed an Action Plan with the U.N. in 2012 and the government has since stopped recruiting child soldiers into its military. Before 2012, children ages 8 to 16-years-old made up about 60 percent of the military. Now, the main problem with child recruitment in the DRC is girls who are used as “wives” and “escorts” for the soldiers. At least one-third of all child soldiers in the DRC are girls, though only 7 percent have been released since the signing of the Action Plan. In 2019, Child Soldiers International helped 245 of these girls go back to school, including Neema, who said, “if we could go to school, the community would be nicer to us, we would get some consideration, that would help a lot.” Organizations, such as the National Action Group, conduct outreach work to help child soldiers in the DRC appropriate back into their communities. With their support, child soldiers and military “wives” can avoid the stigmatization and persecution that comes with being a child soldier.

  3. Iran – Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, spoke out against the use of child soldiers in Iran, saying, “The use of child soldiers is a moral outrage that every civilized nation rejects while Iran celebrates it. Iran’s economy is increasingly devoted to funding Iranian repression at home and aggression abroad. Iranian big business and finance are funding the war crime of using child soldiers.” Her comments came in the midst of the United States’ political maneuvering against Iran’s use of child soldiers. The Iranian military, especially the Basij Resistance Force, has had a long history of using child soldiers. During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Basij used child soldiers to clear minefields ahead of the military. With the U.S. hard on their heels, Iranian rights activists hope that this will be a wake-up call and end the use of child soldiers in Iran.

  4. Iraq – In 2017, there were 109 confirmed cases of child soldier recruitment in Iraq, 59 of which were attributed to ISIL or ISIS. Children were used as suicide bombers, combatants, bomb manufactures and “wives” for soldiers. Many different military organizations in Iraq use “volunteer” child soldiers, but under international law, non-state armed groups cannot recruit children under 18 under any circumstances. Children’s Rights Director at Human Rights Watch, Zama Coursen-Neff, said, “The PKK [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party] should categorically denounce the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and commanders in affiliated armed groups should know that the recruitment and use of children under age 15 constitute war crimes. Boys and girls should be with their families and going to school, not used as means to military ends.” The U.N. is ready to provide support to the Iraqi government as they develop and implement reintegration services for children formally used as child soldiers.

  5. Mali – Stephane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesperson, proclaimed good news for a few child soldiers in Mali, saying, “Nine child combatants were handed over to the U.N. mission in Kidal this morning. The mission is… making arrangements for their care by child protection officials pending reunification with their family.” There were 159 documented cases of child soldier recruitment in 2017, but Mali is taking steps in the right direction. After signing an Action Plan with the U.N. in March of 2017, the military began screening their troops to identify children. However, the country failed to implement other aspects of the Action Plan. On Feb 1, 2018, Mali’s government endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, which protects the use of educational facilities in military training or conflict.

  6. Nigeria – Boko Haram is also a problem for child soldiers in Nigeria, accounting for 1,092 cases of child recruitment. However, this number has decreased by almost 50 percent in the past two years, due to the loss of territory by Boko Haram. In 2018, more than 900 children were freed from Boko Haram, some as young as 7-years-old. UNICEF spokesman, Christophe Boulierac, said, “This is a significant milestone in ending the recruitment and use of children, but many more children remain in the ranks of other armed groups in either combat or support roles. We call on all parties to stop recruiting children and let children be children.” Nigeria signed an Action Plan with the U.N. in September of 2017, and since then, more than 8,700 children have been rehabilitated back into their communities.

  7. Somalia – Warlord Al Shabaab is the biggest threat to child soldiers in Somalia, enlisting 70 percent of the 2,217 children recruited throughout the country. More than 50 percent of Al Shabaab’s army are children under the age of 18. Col. Bonny Bamwiseki, commander of Battle Group XXII of the Uganda contingent of the African Union Mission in Somalia, explained another problem of child soldiers: “Some of these boys are children of this struggle and so they become part of it.” With clan warfare and the threat of Al Shabaab all around them, many children “volunteer” to protect their families and their homes.

  8. South Sudan – South Sudan became the 168th country to sign a U.N. treaty to end the use of child soldiers.  On Sept 27, 2018, ambassadors from South Sudan met with U.N. officials to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC). In the past five years, more than 19,000 children have been recruited by armed groups in South Sudan, but now the government is working to demobilize all child soldiers throughout the country and offer support for their recovery. Progress will be slow and difficult, but the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba noted, “Today, the Government of South Sudan is making an important promise to its children that they will take all possible measures to protect them from recruitment and use by both its armed forces and armed groups active in the country.”

  9. Syria – The number of child soldiers has been increasing yearly in Syria, now reaching 851 verified cases of recruitment and use of children in the military. While Syria has not worked with the U.N. to implement an Action Plan or OPAC, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria, issued a military order banning the recruitment of children under 18. This military order requires SDF officers to transfer children to educational facilities, end salary payments to children, hear and receive complaints of child recruitment, and take measures against soldiers who fail to obey these orders. Though the number of cases of child soldiers in Syria has increased, these measures will help prevent fight the use of child soldiers in 2019.

  10. Yemen – According to the U.N., the Yemen civil war is one of the worst humanitarian crisis, killing more than 85,000 children. The war left families destitute, and many send their children off to fight in exchange for money. Children make up between 20 and 40 percent of Yemen military units, and since 2015, there have been 2,369 verified cases of child recruitment. There are currently more than 6,000 suspected child soldiers across the country, and more than 20,000 children who are in need of rehabilitation after the war. While many Yemeni officials deny the use of child soldiers or call the reports “exaggerated,” the U.N. is working to give people knowledge of this “child’s war” and reduce the number of child soldiers in Yemen.

The 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report hopes to raise awareness of the use of child soldiers around the world, and encourage people to respond and make a change. The information is overwhelmingly negative, but there have been many positives since 2017. For example is that Sudan has been removed from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List, as the U.S. Department of State believes that they have improved in regulating the use of child soldiers.

– Natalie Dell
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Rwanda Child Soldiers
Rwanda is an African country whose history is marred by colonialism, civil war, political turmoil and genocide. Since the 1994 genocide that killed nearly one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu, the country continues to deal with the aftermath of this suffering.

One of the central issues during the genocide and even today in the post-genocide environment has been the role of child soldiers. Here are the top 10 facts about Rwanda child soldiers.

Top 10 Facts About Rwanda Child Soldiers

  1. Post-genocide, many Rwandan survivors fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, as violence surged in the Congo and a genocide of its own erupted there, Congolese rebels forced Rwandan boys to become soldiers for their cause.
  2. Children are a vulnerable population that are more susceptible to be forced or recruited into child armies. This vulnerability is structural according to Human Rights Watch: “Government officials have done little to protect these children’s rights…traditional societal networks have been severely eroded by poverty, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and, not least, the consequences of the genocide and war.”
  3. According to Michael Wessels, author of Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection, children are more likely to be recruited as soldiers because “They can be psychologically manipulated through a deliberate programme of starvation, thirst, fatigue, voodoo, indoctrination, beatings, the use of drugs and alcohol, and even sexual abuse to render them compliant to the new norms of child soldiering.”
  4. More than 50 percent of Rwanda’s population is 19 years old or younger and orphans account for 10 percent of this demographic. With limited access to money, shelter, education and other necessities, many of these vulnerable children fall prey to child armies.
  5. In the neighboring country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the rebel military group M23 worked with the Rwandan Defense Force to train child soldiers.
  6. With promises of money, education and jobs, children—many of them orphaned or living in extreme poverty—fell prey to the Rwandan Defense Force which falsely claimed children would be trained for the Rwandan army, not for M23.
  7. Romeo Dallaire witnessed the Rwandan genocide firsthand as a U.N. peacekeeper. According to Dallaire, one of the reasons for employing child soldiers is that “they are viewed as expendable, replaceable.”
  8. For the past 20 years, Rwanda has been working to demobilize Rwandan child soldiers and reintegrate them into Rwandan society. As of 2013, the Rwandan government demobilized about 3,000 child soldiers.
  9. Although the Rwandan government made successful moves to reduce the number of child soldiers, some reports suggest that simultaneously, the Rwandan government recruited some of those same children as soldiers. Following these accusations, the United States denied military funding to the Rwandan Army.
  10. In efforts to help reintegrate former child soldiers, the Lake Muhazi Centre is just one of many places that runs a three-month course that offers counseling, recreational activities, and job training to help facilitate assimilation back into Rwandan society.

Although Rwanda made great strides to demobilize the child soldiers that its own army produced, many child soldiers remain in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was not until 2013 that the Rwandan government acknowledged its role in the production of child soldiers and has, since then, made great efforts to combat this atrocity.

– Morgan Everman
Photo: Pixabay

10 Facts about Myanmar Child Soldiers
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, might be on its way to achieving democracy but it is still far away from achieving a stellar record when it comes to human rights. This becomes especially evident in the case of child soldiers.

In this article, the top 10 facts about Myanmar child soldiers will be presented, one of the biggest problems this nation is currently facing.

Top 10 Facts About Myanmar Child Soldiers

  1. According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. Children are army members of both confronted sides- the national army as well as rebel groups in the ethnic minority regions outside the capital of Yangon. Roughly 350,000 soldiers make up the Burmese army with an estimated 20 percent of them being child soldiers.
  2. The children are usually taken against their will from public areas, such as parks and train stations in their town. They are often abducted and forced to be conscripted. If they refuse, they are threatened with jail time.
  3. After the 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, many families were separated and many identification documents were destroyed or damaged. This made easier for the army recruiters to prey on the vulnerable children, particularly orphans since there is no one to identify and protect them.
  4. One of the examples of exploitation of children for army purposes can be seen in the Northern Rakhine state. It has been verified that 53 boys have been used by the Border Guard Police for various purposes that include maintaining the camps, as well as constructing and carrying equipment.
  5. The largest ethnic opposition groups, the United Wa State Army, has the largest number of forcible child conscripts. Another notorious group, the Kachin Independence Army, is the only military group in Burma that recruits girls.
  6. Boys as young as 12 are forced to fight and to commit human rights violations against the civilians that they are made to round up. This includes setting villages on fire and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
  7. Human Rights Watch has urged the Burmese government as well as all opposition ethnic rebel groups that forcibly recruit children under the age of 18 to stop the practice and release all current child soldiers. It has also called for these state and non-state actors to cooperate with international organizations such as UNICEF.
  8. In June 2012, the Burmese government signed a Joint Action Plan with the government and armed groups to take steps in order to reintegrate the child soldiers into civilian life. The plan also entailed allowing U.N. workers to access military bases.
  9. Since signing the deal in 2012, the government has released 924 children, according to a statement released by child protection agency UNICEF.
  10. The government has released 75 child soldiers in 2018 as part of the above mentioned process to end decades of forced recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.

In conclusion, Myanmar’s development will be incomplete without the eradication of the problem of child soldiers. As long as the ethnic groups and the official Myanmar Army continue to use child soldiers to fight in their wars, the twin path of democracy and development are still a long way off.

Maneesha Khalae
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Somalia Child Soldiers
Somalia, a country located on the Horn of Africa, has an ongoing issue with child recruitment by terrorist groups, mostly Al-Shabaab. Children as young as 8 years old are often being sent to the frontline for combat and are taught to transport explosives, work as spies and handle weapons. In the article below the top 10 facts about child soldiers in Somalia are listed.

Top 10 Facts About Somalia Child Soldiers

  1. According to a report issued to the United Nations, 6,163 Somalia children were recruited as soldiers during the period of April 1, 2010, to July 31, 2016. Out of this number, 5,993 were boys and 230 were girls. Al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization that is in alliance with Al-Qaeda, accounted for 70 percent of the recruited children. 
  2. The Secretary-General of U.N. is alarmed by the increasing number of violations against the young children, including the uprise of recruitment, the attacks made on schools, the act of sexual violation and cases of abduction. For instance, 64 school attacks were reported, out of which 58 are linked with Al-Shabaab.
  3. The U.N. chief reported that some of the children have been targeted with the promise of pursuing an education and job. Generally, the children are promised a better future in exchange for their services.
  4. Boys are captured on the battlefield by intelligence agencies. Most boys are then arrested and beaten during security operations held by the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) in the capital of Mogadishu. This leaves children caught in between explosions and government detention.
  5. Interrogations are used against the kids and result in torture and the disconnection with the relatives. In one case, a 16-year-old boy told Human Right’s Watch (HRW) that he was abused by NISA in 2016. He stated that he was taken out of his cell at night and forced to confess. He was bleeding for two weeks, but no one helped him. 
  6. The federal government in Somalia promised to send captured children to The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) for rehabilitation. However, only 250 children were released since 2015.
  7. U.S. troops aided Somalia’s security during a raid that took place in January 2018. According to a statement made by a U.S. military official to CNN, the troops rescued 30 child soldiers.
  8. There are 500 U.S. troops currently located in Somalia working as military advisers and conventional logistic personnel. U.S. Navy SEALs are deployed to Somalia to serve as advisors to their security forces.
  9. Recently, the U.S. suspended some aid to Somali troops due to worries about corruption. However, Somali units that are advised by American military personnel are still receiving aid.
  10. Since January 2015, multiple pieces of training of personnel from African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), a peacekeeping mission, and Somali National Army (SNA) on countering the use of child soldiers have taken place. With the support of the British Peace Support Training, these developments help protect the children in Somalia.

Several of these top 10 facts about Somalia child soldiers presented above showcase the work of organizations like AMISOM where the focus is on combating the number of cases of child recruitment.

In order for child recruitment to be fully eradicated in the country, nongovernmental organization, government and foreign agencies must work together. This groundbreaking work will not only help protect the children in Somalia but may also bring hope to end all conflict between the Somali and African forces.

– Kathleen Smith
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Yemen Child Soldiers
Yemen, a relatively small country located south of Saudi Arabia and east of the Red Sea, currently has one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet. Similar to situations is most conflicts, Yemeni children have suffered immensely since the war began in 2014. In particular, Yemen has seen the recruitment of child soldiers as a common practice. Since this is a very serious issue, in the text below top 10 facts about Yemen child soldiers are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Yemen Child Soldiers

  1. The year 2014 witnessed the beginning of the crisis in Yemen when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over most of the country’s cities, including the capital Sanaa. In response, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition in support of the government that was led by Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.
  2. Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have mainly waged a campaign of air strikes and an ongoing land, air and sea blockade. According to the World Health Organisation, as of early 2018, over 8,600 people have died and around 50,000 have been injured. In addition to this fact, Yemen is experiencing one of the worst modern world’s cholera outbreak.
  3. Although both Houthi forces and pro-government forces claim child soldiers are frowned upon on, the number of child soldiers has increased in Yemen over the years. The U.N. reports that an estimated 517 children were recruited in Yemen during 2016. In 2017, however, this number expanded to 842. This includes children as young as 11 years old. In total, an official tally approximates that around 2,369 children have been used in combat since 2015.
  4. Of these confirmed cases, Houthi rebels share the most responsibility for the recruitment of Yemeni children. Out of the 842 recruited child soldiers in 2017, 534 fought under the Houthi rebels. Of course, Houthi rebels are not the only ones who participate in using child soldiers for their cause, since another, pro-government side, recruits child soldiers as well.
  5. Poverty has become a significant factor for child recruitment in Yemen. The USAID reports that 80 percent of Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. Consequently, the recruitment of children becomes an economic exchange. These young boys are voluntarily and involuntarily recruited for the purpose of bringing the money home. With families living in poverty and in war-torn areas, fighting for the rebels or pro-government forces becomes one of the few ways to make a living at such a young age. In fact, Amnesty International stated that Houthi forces would offer to pay $80 to $120 in monthly pensions to the family of a killed child soldier.
  6. The degradation of Yemen’s educational system has also resulted in a major recruitment boom for local forces. As of March 2018, the U.N. estimated that around 2 million school-aged children were out of school and 2,500 schools were left in rubbles. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund has concluded that the risks or children recruitment for war purposes rapidly increase when there is no educational or social security net for them to grow up in. Armed groups are able to distort the perceptions of parents and children into thinking that recruitment is the only path left for the future, in order to gain cheap soldiers.
  7. While Yemen child soldiers are increasingly being recruited in the current crisis, international groups are using foreign aid to stop and eventually reverse this trend. For instance, UNICEF has recently launched a campaign that emphasizes education and advocacy. It is their plan to rebuild Yemen’s educational system and make sure that children at-risk always have schooling as the best option for their future. Moreover, the U.N. has called on all parties of the conflict to return these children to schools and better protect them and their futures.
  8. The U.S. Agency for International Development has initiated numerous projects for keeping children educated and protected. As of 2017, USAID has funded the day-to-day expenses and repairs for over 200 schools, resulting in 70,000 children staying in school and receiving a basic education. Working alongside the Yemen Ministry of Education, 15,000 high-risk children were able to continue their education at home when the security environment proved too dangerous for schools. S.A.I.D. and local governments are continuously developing security and emergency plans for over 100 schools in order to better protect school children across the country.
  9. The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) was launched in Yemen’s Marib province with the hope of helping former child soldiers recover from the emotional and phycological scars of combat. As of 2017, 215 children were rehabilitated in addition to 2,000 that are currently undergoing treatment.
  10. The U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen stated he was “deeply disturbed” by the conflict and the “complete disregard for human life that all parties, including the Saudi-led coalition, continue to show in this absurd war.”

With the deadly conflict still raging in Yemen with no end in sight, it may be easy to lose hope. However, humanitarians at home and abroad are continuing to fight, especially for the children that are being manipulated into seeing their future as soldiers as the only way out. The hope is still alive that the joint effort of local authorities and international organizations will secure that these children go to school, not armories.

– Tanner Helem
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Child Soldiers in Syria
During the Syrian conflict, children, even younger than 10, have been recruited into armed groups. These children are inadequately protected by the government and many are recruited into government and terrorist organizations. The majority of them are untrained but are placed in combat situations. Years of violence and despair have plagued the lives of these children. In the text below, the top 10 facts about child soldiers in Syria are presented.

 Top 10 Facts about Child Soldiers in Syria

  1. In a survey conducted by Save the Children, 59 percent of adults interviewed in Syria claimed to know children or young adults in Syria that had been recruited into armed groups. As of 2017, 910 children have been killed and 361 have been maimed during the Syrian conflict. Child soldiers in Syria have been used as human shields, suicide bombers, front-line soldiers and as guards at checkpoints.
  2. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of armed children in the Syrian civil war verified by the U.N. was 851, more than double from the year before. The incentives used to encourage children into the army are salaries, ideologies and family or community influence. Even girls join these armed groups and seek to escape either abuse or arranged marriages.
  3. Child soldiers are encouraged to join armed groups due to poverty or being consistently targeted by specific groups. Some child soldiers in Syria have been reported to receive salaries of up to $400 a month. The families targeted by recruiters are typically poor and recruiters have been known to promise to pay and clothe children for their enlistment.
  4. In Syria, ISIS had kidnapped 463 children in 2015. ISIS usually targets ethnic minority groups and women and children in their abductions. In 2015, it was believed that this organization has 3,500 slaves that were made up mostly of women and children.
  5. The U.N. verified 29 child soldiers in Syria associated with government forces. Although the government is not supposed to conscript child soldiers, they do sit anyway. The children in Syria have little protection from the government against armed groups recruitment.
  6. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have recently issued an order that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to be enlisted into the army. This order requires commanders to verify the ages of soldiers and then take those under the age limit to authorities to end their enlistment. It also calls for punishments for commanders who refuse to comply with this order.
  7. Around 60 percent of the United Nation’s verified cases of child soldiers in Syria were associated with the Free Syrian Army. The Free Syrian Army is a rebel group formed by army deserters in Turkey. Several other armed groups across Syria have adopted their banner. A child interviewed by the Human Rights Watch stated that he joined the Free Syrian Army after he was previously tortured by the government forces.
  8. Children are actively being detained in Syria due to their perceived alliance with a specific group or organization. The U.N. verified that government forces had arrested 12 boys in 2016. Anti-government forces imprison children that are believed to support the government.
  9. There are 292,000 children trapped in besieged areas. The affected areas include Damascus, Idlib, Deir Az Zor and Homs. These areas have been besieged by both rebel and pro-government forces.
  10. Recently, the United Nations appealed to the U.S. for $8 billion of aid for Syria. The first part of the proposal aims to help refugees and the second part aims to provide humanitarian aid and protection for the 13.5 million people inside Syria.

These top 10 facts about child soldiers in Syria demonstrate the desperate crisis children in this country face every day. These are children who desperately need support in a fractured world, especially child soldiers that are affected most by the violence.

Investing in the future of this region and its children could have a large impact. Rehabilitation programs for child soldiers could help them reintegrate into society and into a normal life. These children could be placed into care centers or mandatory rehab programs to deal with the psychological and physical damage they have suffered.

Programs like these have worked in other conflicts and war situations and could help Syrian child soldiers find a way out of the violence they face every day and help them re-establish relationships with their families and communities as well.

– Olivia Halliburton

Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the CongoFor Western civilizations, it is hard to comprehend the usage of children as soldiers for different purposes in other countries. It is hard even to imagine a child holding a gun. However, child soldiers are a very real epidemic in most of the African continent. This problem is prevalent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Central Africa. In order to better understand the situation in this country, in the text below the top 10 facts about the child soldiers are presented.

Top 10 Facts about Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. DRC has been infected with many different forms of armed conflict for over 20 years. A cruel tactic that the soldiers have acquired is recruiting and abducting children from their homes and enlisting them to fight, mostly against their will. It is also important to note that over 35 percent of these children were recruited voluntarily.
  2. Of the children enlisted as child soldiers in the DRC, one-third are young girls. Unfortunately, these girls are used as “wives” for the older men and face cruel sexual abuse from commanders and soldiers alike. Of the children released from the armies only 7 percent were girls but the organization Child Soldiers International is fighting hard to safely return as many girls as possible back to their families and homes.
  3. While the Child Soldiers International organization focuses heavily on ending the exploitation of girls they also work hard in researching, advocating and raising awareness to prevent the general recruitment of child soldiers in the DRC. They work tirelessly with the U.N., Congolese organizations and the DRC government in their efforts.
  4. Children as young as 6 have been recruited and children from ages 8 to 16 make up at least 60 percent of the soldiers in the region.
  5. Child soldiers suffer from immense psychological trauma as well as the struggle with the reintegration to everyday life. There are many organizations at work to help with the reintegration process such as the Action Center for Youth and Vulnerable Children (CAJED) that provides support and job skill training for those in need.
  6. The DRC government, while it was slow to intervene at first, is not sitting back while the recruitment of child soldiers continues. It has recently signed all international agreements, treaties and protocols with regards to child soldiers in the country.
  7. Of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers in the world, approximately 10 percent were from the DRC in 2003.
  8. In 2012 the DRC’s government signed an Action Plan with the U.N. to stop the enlistment of child soldiers into any form of armed forces. This endeavor has drastically decreased the number of child soldiers but there are still illegal enlistments that go undocumented.
  9. In 2014, The DRC was listed as a tier three country, meaning there were very serious threats in terms of child trafficking in the country. Over 1,000 children were being either recruited for the armed forces or released from.
  10. The creator of the CAJED, Gilbert Munda, was once a child soldier himself in the DRC. He has paired his organization with UNICEF and focuses a lot of its efforts specifically in the DRC.

The recruitment and enlistment of child soldiers are one of the greatest humanitarian issues that our world faces. While the number of child soldiers has declined significantly over the years, there is still much that is needed to be done, but as with any other problem, the first step is acknowledgment.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr

7 Facts About Ugandan Child Soldiers
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) began in 1987 in Uganda to rebel against President Yoweri Museveni. Children constitute most of the army. The LRA forces child soldiers in Uganda to commit acts of violence on other minors within the LRA ranks as well as brutalities on their own siblings.

LRA and Child Soldiers in Uganda

Between 1988 and 2004, the LRA abducted 30,000 Ugandan children.

Joseph Kony heads the LRA. He grew up in the northern Ugandan village, Odek. His relative, Alice Auma Lakwena, began a rebel group called The Holy Spirit Movement in 1986 when Museveni seized power. In 1987, Kony declared himself a prophet, changed the name of the group to the LRA and began proclaiming rule based on the Ten Commandments.

In October 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began attempting to arrest Kony. A peace agreement was finalized in April 2008, but the child soldiers in Uganda and neighboring countries remained an issue.

Since 2008, Kony and his forces have been shifting their presence to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic. The LRA Crisis Tracker, a website that reports LRA attacks and notifies email subscribers, lists 27 verified child abductions in these countries in 2018 alone.

Issues with the LRA

The LRA has displaced more than two million people since 1986 thereby increasing poverty in Uganda, especially in the north. However, the relation between the LRA and poverty is not mutually exclusive. The LRA and its brutal use of child soldiers in Uganda is a result of the harsh poverty that Kony and many others in the LRA ranks have experienced. Note the following:

  1. A huge income inequality, rooted in colonialism, exists between northern and southern Uganda’s north and south.
  2. British colonists created a militant north.
  3. The Acholi people have been systematically oppressed.

When the British colonized Uganda in 1860, a centralized government did not exist. They created agricultural and commercial centers in southern Uganda.

This left the north to provide labor. The British found higher success rates in northern Uganda for army recruitment because it provided northerners an opportunity to improve their livelihoods. These divisions continued after Uganda gained independence in 1962.

Acholi

Kony came from the impoverished north and is Acholi, an ethnolinguistic group. Idi Amin Dada, Former Ugandan President from 1971 to 1979, persecuted and executed the Acholi due to their military ties and alignment with Apollo Milton Obote, who was in office as the Prime Minister from 1962 to 1966 and as the President from 1966 to 1971 and then again from 1980 to 1985.

The British created a system where many Acholi people turned to the army to escape extreme poverty and then they were persecuted for it. Poverty and persecution influenced Kony’s disillusionment with the government and his desire to rebel and create child soldiers in Uganda.

However, the LRA’s actions have not combated the root issues of poverty and oppression. The cycle of poverty in Uganda propagates because of Kony and the LRA’s use of Ugandan child soldiers in the following ways:

  1. One of the biggest populations of displaced people now exists in northern and eastern Uganda. Most LRA raids take place at night, so when Kony’s presence was focused in Uganda, mothers and children trying to avoid becoming Ugandan soldiers fled their villages to bigger towns and secure government camps. More than 80 percent of the Acholi people were displaced.
  2. Malnutrition exists within the LRA ranks as well and many Ugandans focused on fleeing for their lives over planting food. This created severe food shortages, particularly in 2004.
  3. A lack of health workers exists because so many of them had to escape the LRA.
  4. Kony and other men in the LRA took many female captives as “wives” and forced them to have more children in order to provide more resources.

Moving Forward in Uganda

Now that most of LRA’s presence is focused elsewhere, Uganda is working to solve its problems. In 2006, 31.1 percent of Ugandans were under the national poverty line, according to The World Bank’s 2016 Uganda Poverty Assessment. In 2013, it went down to 19.7 percent. Northern and eastern Uganda still suffer devastating consequences from Kony’s reign of terror, and the same study reveals that poverty has increased in those regions from 68 percent to 84 percent in those seven years.

In June 2009, the LRA had abducted 491 civilians and caused 484 civilian fatalities in Uganda. While peace is coming to Uganda and its children, the LRA still violently demonstrates its power in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it abducted 124 civilians in 2018.

In June 2018, there have been no reported fatalities or abductions, meaning there are no new child soldiers in Uganda this year. The growing peace in Uganda provides hope that the country’s poverty rate might reduce and that the LRA would not reign indefinitely.

– Charlotte Preston
Photo: Flickr

Democratic Republic of CongoDuring the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), from 1998 to 2003, more than 5.2 million children did not receive an education. Although the situation has improved since then, the legacy of the war remains, especially its effect on the female population.

In 2012, it was reported that approximately 62.92 percent of female youth aged 15 years and older were literate compared to an 87.91 percent literacy rate for young males.

Factors Impacting Girls Education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The overarching traditional outlook about the role of females in society: Many families believe that girls have a responsibility at home, while boys should work outside as the main breadwinners. This thinking leads people to discredit education as an important part of girls’ lives, whereas boys are encouraged to attend schools.

Poverty: According to the World Bank, although the poverty rate in the DRC declined from 71 percent to 64 percent between 2005 and 2012, the country still remains one the poorest countries in the world with a ranking of at176 out of 187 countries per the United Nation’s 2015 Human Development Index. As a result of high levels of poverty, many girls take up jobs to support their families.

Opportunities in armed groups: About 30 to 40 percent of children in the armed groups are girls. Girls are often lured into joining local militias because of enticing factors like wages. However, the NGO Child Soldiers International interviewed over 200 female former child soldiers, who reported that instead of finding opportunities within these groups, they were drugged, raped or forced to commit crimes.

For those who are able to escape, they attempt to matriculate into school but are unable to because of the stigma associated with the former sexual relationships between the girls and male soldiers. The same girls who were interviewed cited how they were called “prostitutes” and “HIV carriers” by schools and were not allowed to enroll.  

Solutions

To resolve the issue of lack of girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the nation is reforming its system so that more children are able to pursue an education. For example, the DRC has increased its education budget from 7.9 percent in 2012 to 14.7 percent in 2015. In addition, the government has received a $100 million grant from the Global Partnership for Education to continue its efforts. 

Moreover, USAID and the United Kingdom Department for International Development have funded a five-year education program that focuses on reading outcomes in the DRC. It is the largest implemented education program in the DRC and plans to improve the reading outcomes of 1.5 million grades 1-4 students.

Furthermore, USAID has worked to create safe school environments, especially for girls, by training teachers and administrators on how to assess safety and security at the school. Through this, girls will not have to fear for their safety, the lack of which also caused them to join militias.

The results of these actions are clear in the numbers. In 2016, UNESCO reported that approximately 66.5 percent of females aged 15 years and older were literate. Although a small increase, this is still an improvement from 2012. 

Girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has faced many obstacles. However, the country is combating this crisis and ensuring that all children are provided with this opportunity, an action that other underdeveloped countries should follow.

Sheharbano Jafry
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in IraqWith the war against ISIS in Iraq officially declared over by the Iraqi government in December, efforts on the ground have now begun to focus on rebuilding the lives of the Iraqi people. Of particular concern is the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers in Iraq, the young “cubs of the caliphate” trained by ISIS and indoctrinated with its ultraviolent ideology.

What Has Happened to Child Soldiers in Iraq?

It is estimated that over the past four years, at least 2,000 minors underwent military training in ISIS camps, learning to use light and medium weaponry and function as effective cogs in the ISIS machine. Yet what may be most distressing is not the technical training these children received, but rather the ideological indoctrination.

The indoctrination that took place in ISIS sponsored schools and training camps instilled these children with extremist beliefs and sought to normalize acts of violence and killing. The result, ISIS hoped, would be the creation of the jihadists of the future, a group of fighters steeped in the ultraviolent ideology of ISIS and capable of waging a holy war for generations.

It is this deeply seated indoctrination into extremism, experts fear, that may pose a grave threat to the future stability of Iraq. With the end of the war and a return to normal life, many foresee the violent indoctrination of ISIS preventing these children from reintegrating into society and leading normal lives. With an intentionally violent and radical worldview, it is possible that many child soldiers will return to their towns highly radicalized, facing the discomfort of a worldview which does not match reality.

Besides being radicalized, many of these former child soldiers in Iraq also suffer from psychological trauma derived from a childhood of violence and warfare. For many, it is all they know and it is this mindset geared toward violence that has no place in normal life that could isolate them from their friends, families and peers. The resulting isolation caused by their inability to properly reintegrate may then make them more vulnerable to crime or further acts of extremism.

Why is Reintegration So Difficult?

Now that the process toward normalization has begun for many Iraqis, the question facing towns, families and NGOs is how to welcome back the former child soldiers in Iraq. There is no doubt that the task is monumental, as in many places there are no jobs available and professionals needed for psychological rehabilitation remain few and far between.

The complexity of the situation in Iraq remains a hazard to successful reintegration as well. In some territories which were held previously by ISIS, families who were sympathetic to the Caliphate gave their children up willingly and the child may continue to be indoctrinated when he or she returns home. It is also no secret that many Iraqis hold a grudge against former ISIS members and would deny them treatment and reconciliation.

What is Being Done?

Yet with peace becoming a reality, there is real promise for a brighter future for these former child soldiers in Iraq. Programs demobilizing and reintegrating child soldiers have been successful in countries such as Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Such programs began by clearing the environment of weapons, then identifying former child soldiers who needed special care. Next, focus was placed on empowering these children with a feeling of belonging and re-establishing societal and familial links to reintegrate them.

Local citizens are also taking matters into their own hands to re-educate former child soldiers in Iraq. In Mosul, for instance, a group of Muslim law sages has begun preaching a moderate brand of Islam with the intent to promote peace and reconciliation.

What remains clear is that reintegrating child soldiers in formerly held ISIS territory will be a difficult, long term process, one which needs attention from the highest authorities inside and outside Iraq. If Iraq is ever to be war free and at peace, this challenge must be addressed and reconciliation and reintegration of child soldiers must be made a priority to end the cycle of violence.

– Taylor Pace
Photo: Flickr