Child Soldiers in GuatemalaMilitary groups worldwide recruit children and although the U.N. has put measures in place to prevent this, the issue is still prevalent. Their roles are not restricted to only soldiers or gunmen, but spies, messengers, sex slaves and suicide bombers. The U.N. receives regular “reports of children as young as 8 or 9 years old associated with armed groups”. When discussing child soldiers in Guatemala in the present day, separating state and non-state armed groups is essential. Guatemala’s gangs and guerrilla groups rely on child recruitment and, as these are not state institutions, these groups are harder to study or control.

Child Soldiers in the Civil War

From 1960 to 1996 Guatemala stood as a site of internal conflict. The leftist guerrilla movement Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) fought against the Guatemalan Government in the Civil War. In this 36-year war, it was “common practice” for both the national army and the guerrilla groups to recruit children. There is a lack of information on the exact number of child soldiers involved in the war. However, the U.N. estimates that out of the 3,000 members of the URNG, 214 were under the age of 18. Unfortunately, this lack of data meant that, after the war, child soldiers in Guatemala did not receive compensation, or benefit from any reintegration programs.


In 1992, the U.N. wrote the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to tackle issues of child safety and exploitation. This states that parties cannot recruit anyone under the age of 15 into the armed forces and pushes the State to take preventative measures.

In 2000, the Optional Protocol to the CRC that focuses on the involvement of children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) raised the age from 15 to 18. Guatemala signed both of these documents, however, there is no evidence of progress.

Military Schools

Guatemala’s military schools are a key example of how the state is still subjecting children to violence and ignoring the concerns raised in the CRC and OPAC. Children in these military schools take part in combat training and weapons handling. Many of these military schools do not meet the government’s educational standards and there are numerous complaints of the use of corporal punishment. Child Rights International Network (CRIN) revealed that in 2016 at least three students reported rape by soldiers at the military school Adolfo V Hall.

Even if these children are not legally members of the armed forces until they are adults, they are still victims to and witnesses of violence at such a young age. In these cases, differentiating voluntary and coerced enlisting is extremely difficult.

Child Soldiers in Gangs

Maras are a type of gang in Guatemala and the 2023 CRIN report shows that recruitment is hard to regulate as maras control large residential areas.

The Maras specifically target children on their way to and from school. These children are coerced and threatened into becoming spies or gunmen and many children have been murdered on their way to school for refusing to take part. According to a 2023 CRIN report “Save the Children reports that children as young as 6 are recruited to transport guns…and have been coerced into homicides as young as 13.” This has had a detrimental impact on education. School is no longer a space of safety and learning but “a site of recruitment.” This creates a vicious cycle, as with lower access to education more children turn to gang activity.

Schools of Peace

Save the Children has worked with Guatemalan families suffering from poverty since 1999. In the last year,  Save the Children positively impacted 201,000 young people. Aside from alleviating poverty, Save the Children has created a Schools of Peace project. This project results from education and child protection services working together to prevent any disruption to the education of young people. The initiative interrupts the process of gang recruitment and ensures that schools in Guatemala have the right protection from any danger due to armed conflict.

Save the Children tells the story of 16-year-old Estrella, a daughter of a gang leader. Her life was wrapped in violence and her education was sacrificed until Schools of Peace intervened. She is doing very well at school and works as a youth leader near Las Canoas to help others who have suffered like her.


Toybox is a charity that provides young people with safe spaces and communities outside of school. The organization works in the country’s capital, Guatemala City and provides counseling and therapy to young children. It has provided children across the world with psychosocial support. Toybox identified that 10% of annual births in Guatemala are undocumented. This reduces the amount of protection the state can provide in conflict situations.

In 2022, Toybox helped 2,794 children around the world obtain legal identity documents. The charity also holds weekly sports activities to develop and maintain trusting relationships between staff and children. It is setting up a support network for these young people, while also demonstrating that other, more constructive, paths are still viable to children who live under gang rule.

A 2023 CRIN report identifies that poverty exacerbates non-state violence and increases child recruitment. It suggests treating the root cause of poverty to see a drastic difference in the levels of child soldiers in Guatemala. Initiatives such as these are important to show that there is a path out of the violence that dominates their lives.

– Liz Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in NigeriaSeveral people in Nigeria are facing displacement and vulnerability due to the issue of child soldiers. Armed groups recruit children under 18, classifying them as “child soldiers.” Despite international efforts, recruitment continues, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive measures to protect these children. There are a number of factors driving this crisis, but on the bright side, international collaborations and educational initiatives play a significant role in bringing about positive change. These endeavors aim to safeguard Nigeria’s children from the horrors of armed conflicts, offering them a future free from fear and violence.

Globally, armed conflicts unfortunately involve children, with at least 105,000 child soldiers reported between 2005 and 2022. Armed groups compel these children into service through methods such as abduction, threats, poverty or the need for survival, all of which violate international law and child rights. Within these armed forces, these children endure violence, perilous tasks and deprivation, significantly affecting their physical and mental well-being.

In 2021, a United Nations (UN) report highlighted alarming rates of child soldiers in Nigeria and sexual violence against children in West and Central Africa. Within five years, government forces and armed groups recruited more than 21,000 children in the region. Furthermore, abductions affected more than 3,500 children, ranking the nation as the second-highest globally in abductions.

Humanitarian Crisis

Various security issues plague Nigeria, including the persistent Boko Haram insurgency in the North, prolonged unrest in the Niger Delta, escalating clashes between herders and farmers in the central and southern regions and the separatist movement in the South East known as Biafra agitation.

Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group, has violently affected the Lake Chad Basin region in West Africa for more than 12 years, displacing at least 2 million people and causing a severe humanitarian crisis. The group’s goal has been to create an Islamic caliphate based in Nigeria. Additionally, this conflict has impacted neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger, leading to the displacement of millions of people across these regions. Armed groups abduct, kill and force children into becoming child soldiers and suicide bombers. They also attack villages, depriving residents of essential resources such as safe water and healthcare. The ongoing crisis has led to a sharp rise in child malnutrition rates.

Child Warfare 

Boko Haram is employing new strategies, notably involving children in warfare, to regain influence and global infamy.

In July 2020, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict condemned Boko Haram’s grave violations against children in Nigeria’s northeast. Between January 2017 and December 2019, Boko Haram recruited 3,601 children, including 1,385 child soldiers through abduction, forced combat and sexual slavery.

Boko Haram has recruited child soldiers as young as 5 to 8 years old. Even more concerning is the group’s use of young girls as suicide bombers. Between April 2011 and June 2017, they deployed 434 bombers, with more than 50% being females. Shockingly, 81 of them were children and teenagers. This number exceeds the 44 child bombers used by the Tamil Tigers over a decade.

The Fight for the Future 

Armed groups in Nigeria recruit and use child soldiers due to various contributing factors. Cash incentives are attractive to countries with a large population living below the poverty line, which makes recruitment easier. Moreover, the Almajiri system in Northern Nigeria exposes out-of-school children to vulnerability, making them susceptible to armed groups. Despite efforts to address the problem, including heightened security measures in Northern Nigeria, the UN considers the situation “unacceptable and immoral.” The issue remains unresolved, even though the UN and the Nigerian government have worked together to combat it.

The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is urging regional efforts to prevent children from joining armed groups by providing them with better opportunities such as education and meaningful activities. This approach involves establishing child protection agencies, reintegrating rescued children and prioritizing education to reduce vulnerability and the number of out-of-school children, thereby making them less susceptible to recruitment by non-state armed groups.

Urgent global attention and coordinated efforts from the international community, the UN and the Nigerian government appear to be vital in addressing the issue of child soldiers in Nigeria. The involvement of children, as young as 5 years old, vividly highlights the severity of the issue. Despite recent initiatives like enacting the Child Rights Act and endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, the issue of child recruitment persists, underscoring the need for a comprehensive approach.

Both recent and ongoing trends regarding this problem emphasize the need for sustained commitment from all stakeholders to eradicate the use of child soldiers in Nigeria and provide a brighter future for the nation’s young generations.

– Ellen Jones
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in IranAn anonymous former Iranian soldier shared with an Iranwire reporter the profound impact the Iraq-Iran War had on his life. At just 14 years old, he was sent to the frontlines, robbed of the joys of adolescence, such as going to school and experiencing love. This practice of using child soldiers in Iran commenced during the Iraq-Iran War in 1980 and has persisted, with reports of its employment as recently as 2022. Notably, Iranian government officials specifically target children from impoverished families, enticing them with promises of financial rewards and martyrdom.


After the 680 CE Battle of Karbala, the glorification of martyrs within the Shiite religion (the official religion of Iran) started. The Sunni Caliph Yazid killed Hussain ibn Ali, the third Shiite Imam and grandson of Muhammad, along with his fellow fighters (including children) during this battle. Due to the praise that martyrs receive, the Iranian government commonly recruits child soldiers by promising them martyrdom.

In 1979, Iranian ayatollahs (Shiite religious leaders) introduced child martyrdom into school curricula throughout Iran. They promised children as young as 9 years old that dying as martyrs against the Iraqi enemy would lead them straight to heaven. This teaching continues to be part of the curriculum, as a 2021-22 interim update report on Iran’s radical education revealed that authorities teach students to seek suicide or death in battle even when not required.

Common Duties for Child Soldiers in Iran

Clearing minefields is one of the common duties assigned to child soldiers in Iran. Former New York Times foreign correspondent, Terrence Smith, brought attention to the mine-clearing process that young boys were involved in during the Iraq-Iran war. Many boys between the ages of 12 and 17 would wear red headbands with inscriptions like “Sar Allah” or “Warrior of God” and carry small metal keys around their necks, symbolizing their “keys to heaven” as they prepared for battle.

Military authorities took measures to prevent desertion by binding the child soldiers with ropes. Despite facing withering machine gun fire, these brave children fearlessly hurled themselves on barbed wire or marched into Iraqi minefields to clear the way for Iranian tanks. Their courage and sacrifice in performing such dangerous tasks highlight the unfortunate reality of child soldiers in Iran.

Iran’s authorities exploit child soldiers as propaganda tools, showcasing them in pro-regime media with placards that glorify Iran’s involvement in various wars. Additionally, there are repeated mentions of children in speeches at parades commemorating the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Sadly, this practice of involving children in warfare only exacerbates the poverty Iran confronts.

Connection to Poverty

Approximately 60% of Iranians are grappling with poverty and among them, 20 to 30 million are living in absolute poverty. The use of child soldiers in Iran contributes to this distressing cycle. In their quest to join the war efforts, many child soldiers fall for incentives that particularly appeal to impoverished families.

In 2022, the Iranian government employed young boys to suppress anti-government street protests. Disturbing images of children and young men donning military uniforms and holding batons circulated on social media. Reports from more than 500 supporters of the Imam Ali Society, a local charity in Iran, indicated that authorities recruit these children from impoverished families, offering them a meager exchange of “a few bags of food.”

Moreover, poor families exploit their children’s “martyr status” for benefits. They receive monetary compensation per child involved in conflicts and a martyr card granting them access to food and other privileges. This exploitation of children as both tools of suppression and sources of financial gain further exacerbates the challenges of poverty faced by many Iranian families.


The use of children as soldiers has long been a concern of the United Nations (U.N), but there are currently no reported Iran-specific initiatives to prevent this troubling practice. A governmental pattern of recruiting child soldiers persisted as recently as March 2022.

However, UNICEF has been diligently working to support children in Iran for nearly seven decades. Its efforts include providing essential services such as health care, immunization, proper nutrition, access to education and protection. Additionally, UNICEF maintains regular communication with Iranian authorities to safeguard children’s rights.

Globally, UNICEF has taken action to end the use of children as soldiers through its impactful 2014 Children, Not Soldiers campaign. This initiative, in collaboration with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, aimed to garner international support to halt the recruitment of children in conflicts. The campaign focused on countries like Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen. Member states, the U.N., NGO partners, regional partners and the general public promptly rallied behind this vital cause, culminating in the campaign’s success in 2016.

Regrettably, Iran persists in using children as tools of war. But sustaining awareness about this critical issue and receiving support from organizations like UNICEF could play a pivotal role in ultimately ending the use of child soldiers in Iran, once and for all.

– Taylor Barbadora
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in ScotlandScotland, as part of the U.K., allows children aged 16 and 17 to enlist in the armed forces. The U.K. is the only country in Europe for which the enlistment of minors is legal, and it is one of 20 countries in the world to allow child soldiers at the age of 16. Furthermore, the Scottish National Party (SNP) does not support the existence of child soldiers in Scotland. Despite representing the majority in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP does not have jurisdiction to overturn the existing law regarding child soldiers because it is a federal matter.  


There are currently four main rules in place for child soldiers in Scotland: 

  1. They must obtain parental consent before they enlist. 
  2. Upon entering, they have up to six months to legally withdraw from the army. 
  3. If they do not withdraw after six months, they are required to continue until age 22 unless discharged by a commanding officer. 
  4. Minors do not have permission to enter the front lines until they turn 18, at which point they become legal adults. 

Activists argue the first six months of service are often only enough to include training and preparation and therefore, do not provide the young recruits with sufficient experience to determine whether they want to continue. Furthermore, requiring child soldiers to remain in the army until they are 22 means that they are required to stay in the armed forces for five and sometimes six years — significantly longer than the requirement for adult recruits. 

Negative Effects 

Child soldiers in Scotland face several associated negative risks both during and after their service. For example, MP Carol Monaghan of the SNP has expressed concern over the increased risk of sexual assault for females under 18 in the military. Approximately one out of every 75 females under the age of 18 has reported sexual assault, and experts believe there are many more unreported cases of sexual assault for female soldiers under the age of 18. 

Besides the increased risk of sexual assault, one of the major problems of child soldiers is that those who enlist as minors are much more likely to experience mental health problems after they have finished service, including an increased risk of suicide. 

Additionally, child recruitment overwhelmingly targets children from low-income families in Scottish society. Military briefs in 2018-2019 revealed that children from families with an average income of £10,000 were the main targets of child military recruitment in the UK, which is well below the national average of £32,000

Education levels are one way that the effects of targeted recruitment of kids from low-income families reveal themselves. For instance, the U.K. Ministry of Defense found that around half of recruits possessed a reading level less than or equal to an 11-year-old. This is particularly troublesome as it raises questions about new recruits’ awareness of the terms and conditions of their enlistment. This is illustrated by the fact that the Enlistment Paper, which outlines the terms of service for child soldiers, is quite technical, and therefore, makes it difficult for child recruits with below-average reading skills to fully grasp the terms and conditions of their enlistment. In fact, data reveals that most child soldiers are unaware of their enlistment requirements when they enlist. 

Good News

Although the enlistment of child soldiers in Scotland remains legal, hope is emerging that it will soon be a thing of the past. First, as noted previously, the SNP, which holds a majority in the Scottish Parliament, does not support the legalization of child soldiers and therefore may be able to use its majority position in Westminster to express support for raising the minimum age of recruitment to 18 and, if Scotland gains independence from the U.K., Scotland could eliminate the use of child soldiers. 

Furthermore, multiple international organizations, such as Amnesty International U.K. and the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Child, have actively recommended that the U.K. government raise the minimum age of recruitment to 18. Such continued public pressure by well-known and respected international organizations could go a long way in helping convince members of the U.K. parliament to limit and eventually eliminate the use of child soldiers in Scotland and the U.K. 

Looking Ahead

The enlistment of child soldiers in Scotland and the wider U.K. remains a problem, especially for children of low-income families. However, with the SNP taking a greater role in advocating for the termination of child soldiers and mounting pressure from human rights groups putting more pressure on the U.K. to raise the minimum age enlistment age to 18, there is some hope for the elimination of child soldiers in Scotland. 

– Athan Yanos 
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in Palestine
According to the Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), between 2011 and 2020, both Israeli and Palestinian armed groups recruited Palestinian children for use in combat. Israeli forces allegedly recruited Palestinian children, defined as anyone under the age of 18, as informants using torture and other forms of coercion. Israeli troops jailed Palestinian youngsters in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories under military regulations that did not adhere to international norms for treating detainees and juvenile justice. According to reports, the Palestinian Authority hired minors to work in its security forces on non-combat missions. Palestinian armed organizations used children in combat and suicide bombings. Here is some additional information about child soldiers in Palestine.

Recruited Child Soldiers in Palestine

Though there was no proof that Palestinian armed factions who openly opposed using minors in warfare routinely recruited youngsters, many under the age of 18 receive military training. Multiple children become messengers and couriers. Children occasionally deploy suicide bombs and fight in attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Moreover, all major political parties, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, involve youngsters in this way. Between October 2000 and March 2004, at least nine children sacrificed themselves in suicide bombings in Israel and the Occupied Territories. According to Palestinian non-governmental organizations, from September 2000 to March 2004, 30 youngsters actively participating in organized military activity died. Most of the fatalities happened as a consequence of explosive mishaps or during violent encounters with Israeli soldiers.

Youths from the most challenging socioeconomic backgrounds testified that they were freely recruited and often the readiest to participate. It was alleged that children were occasionally used unintentionally or under coercion in attacks. Reports state that armed groups distributed explosives to children. In January 2004, improvised bombs were used in Gaza, where at least three children died and four more became injured.

Jihad and its Influence on Palestinian Children

On numerous instances, Fatah denounced the use of kids in suicide missions. However, its military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, had links to at least four of these operations, involving four young men aged 16-17. Additionally, three 13-15-year-old boys allegedly attempted to attack an Israeli village in March 2004 with the help of Al-Aqsa and Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad stated that it opposed the use of children in combat. In April 2002, it said, “We refuse any encouragement given to young people that might drive them to act alone or be pushed by others into action. They are not ready and not able to do so.” Nonetheless, Islamic Jihad was responsible for at least three suicide bombs by 17-year-olds between 2002 and 2004.

Hamas has repeatedly demanded an end to the use of youngsters in violent attacks and suicide missions. In April 2002, Hamas urged schools “to address this issue without sacrificing the enthusiasm or spirit of [the] martyrdom of our youth” and imams “to mention this issue in their sermons.” The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed only one child died committing himself to their cause.

The Palestinian Economy Suffers in Poverty

The Palestinian economy faces significant challenges as a result of Israeli limitations on the free flow of people and goods. The unemployment rate in 2012 was 27%, and the latest data indicates that 26% of Palestinians live in poverty. Just one in two teenagers in Gaza, the country’s most impoverished region, had the opportunity to work.

The negative effects of poverty on children’s lives are numerous. For example, because kids frequently drop out of school at a young age to work and support their families, they are usually unable to finish their education. Poverty fuels teenage criminality and early marriages of young girls aged 15-19. In addition, reports of Israeli soldiers killing children have caused rising fear, especially in war-torn places like the Gaza Strip.

Optional Protocol

The Optional Protocol, also known as the Gaza-Israel ceasefire agreements, refers to a series of agreements between the State of Israel and the Palestinian organizations that control the Gaza Strip, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These agreements aim to reduce hostilities and end violence between the two sides. The Optional Protocol includes several key elements, including a cessation of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel and a halt to Israeli airstrikes and ground operations in Gaza. It also endorses the reopening of border crossings. The Palestinian Authority favored the Optional Protocol during the U.N. Special Session on Children in May 2002. It repeated in 2004 that it denounced the exploitation of minors and the targeting of civilians and children by all parties. “Our children should have hope and a future and should not be suicide bombers,” said Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat. “We want them to be doctors and engineers.”

Looking Ahead

Israeli occupation forces allegedly use Palestinian youths as informants under torture and other types of coercion. Israeli soldiers imprisoned Palestinian children in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories under military rule. The soldiers did not follow standards set forth by the international community for the treatment of detainees and juvenile justice. Through the use of Islamic Jihad, recruiters can compel children to fight for their cause.

A global initiative called PCS Week aims to stop the exploitation of Palestinian children as child soldiers. It is inclusive, political and nonpartisan. The movement seeks to compel and humiliate the guilty groups into stopping their crimes. Causes such as PCS are available to end the use of child soldiers in Palestine, raising awareness of the issue.

– Dalia Hasan
Photo: Flickr

Terror Reign in Somalia
Al-Shabaab is an insurgent and militant group based mainly in Somalia. It has close relations with Al-Qaeda. For more than a decade now, al-Shabaab and the Somali government have been fighting in the Somali Civil War. Al-Shabaab’s terror reign in Somalia needs to end by combatting the economic instability and poverty that allow it to continue.

Al-Shabaab’s Origin

Al-Shabaab emerged in 2006 as a splinter group of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that had taken control of Mogadishu and de facto control of Somalia from the Somalia government. In response, the Somali government backed an Ethiopian invasion that defeated the ICU. The Somali people’s resentment of the Ethiopian invasion and the ICU defeat led to an opening for al-Shabaab and its terror reign in Somalia.

By 2008, al-Shabaab took control of southern Somalia and gained dominance by seizing multiple territories throughout the country. In 2012, al-Shabaab officially aligned itself with Al-Qaeda and became Al-Qaeda’s representative in East Africa.

Poverty Leads to Recruitment and Abduction

A lack of economic stability drives terrorism in Somalia. Al-Shabaab capitalizes on the fact that poverty, unfortunately, aids the recruitment of militant groups. Since about 67% of Somali youth are unemployed, many young men join militant and insurgent groups like al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab provides a monthly salary that exceeds the average Somali per capita annual income of  $400. Teenagers that are 14 years old and younger are al-Shabaab recruits. In fact, 70% of al-Shabaab’s recruits are under the age of 24 and the median age for recruits is 17.

In addition to this, children between the ages of nine to 15 have been forcibly recruited into al-Shabaab. Since 2017, al-Shabaab has abducted children, predominantly from pastoral and rural areas, to be frontline fighters. Al-Shabaab also forced Islamic teachers and elders in Somalia to recruit children from school and arm them with military-grade weapons.

Famine and Drought Displacement Led to Al-Shabaab’s Recruitment

The Somali government’s lack of response to famine and drought has also allowed al-Shabaab to exploit poverty in Somalia. In May 2022, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that the 2.97 million Somalis displaced due to drought, violence and food shortages led to extreme overcrowding in refugee camps. Refugee camps are often used as hunting and recruiting grounds for terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab since they are remote and far away from authorities like police officers.

Support from the United States and the International Rescue Committee (IRC)

After President Trump withdrew all military support from Somalia, in May 2022, President Biden redeployed special forces into the country to help assist the Somali government in its war against al-Shabaab. He also approved a Pentagon request to target specific al-Shabaab leaders as part of the counterterrorism strategy.

In addition to the renewed United States support in the fight against Al-Shabaab’s reign of terror, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one organization that is currently helping Somalis get back on their feet economically from the effects of war, drought and food shortages. Since 1981, Somalia’s been receiving aid from the IRC which supports 280,000 Somalis annually.

Since drought is a huge issue, the IRC launched the Building Resilient Communities in Somalia to help educate families about disaster preparedness and financial resilience. These IRC programs mainly target female-led households so that females can learn how to build financial resilience during catastrophes, especially droughts. More than 1,400 Somali families received emergency cash for basic needs from the IRC. The organization has also provided business start-up grants and entrepreneurship training.

Looking Ahead

If Somalia cannot resolve its economic instability, al-Shabaab probably cannot be successfully defeated. Severe poverty is one of the primary reasons why so many young men join al-Shabaab. Joining an insurgent group should never have to be in any child’s future. Children in Somalia deserve better. They deserve a stronger and safer future where al-Shabaab no longer exists and economic instability is no longer a problem for their nation. The support from the U.S. and the IRC should help put Somalia in a better position to combat both poverty and al-Shabaab’s terror reign.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Flickr

War Child
Two filmmakers founded War Child in 1993 after observing the violence that children endured during periods of war. The organization describes itself as “the only specialist charity for children affected by conflict.” With the slogan, “A world where no child’s life is torn apart by war,” War Child works to address the realities children face during war and provide them with prompt support, safety and coping mechanisms. The organization shows children from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic that there is more to life than the destructive nature of war.

War Child’s Work

Since the traumatic impacts of conflict and violence on children, War Child takes an approach to help children through four key areas: protection, education, livelihoods and advocacy. Armed groups tear children from their families through false promises of education or money while abducting others. This can leave these children with severe and lifelong psychological problems. The organization’s support includes “setting up children’s helplines,” strengthening child justice systems, “rehabilitating and reintegrating former child soldiers” as well as reuniting children with parents.

More than 75 million children ages 3 to 18 are not in school in 35 countries experiencing war. War Child aims to address this problem in multiple ways, including providing children with early childhood education programs and initiating Education in Emergencies initiatives. The organization also provides teachers with training to best support learners in conflict-ridden environments. By incorporating play into learning programs, the organization attempts to remedy trauma. These initiatives give children a sense of normalcy during a period of time in their lives where chaos surrounds them.

The organization also recognizes the need to provide children with humanitarian aid to address their basic human needs. The organization provides cash assistance to communities for people to use according to “their own priorities and preferences.” To strengthen economic resilience, the organization assists people in securing employment or establishing businesses “by providing them with technical, business and life skills, establishing group-based saving schemes and providing small grants making the best out of existing market opportunities. ”

In many crisis-prone countries, agriculture plays an important role. As such, War Child created Peace Gardens. Peace Gardens allow children to develop agricultural skills while increasing food security as crop produce can provide nutritious school meals for children.

Sam Smith’s Role in War Child

Sam Smith’s global impact extends far beyond his role as a singer-songwriter. Smith became War Child’s Global Ambassador in 2017 after conversing with a child in Jordan who, as Smith put it, “said something that will stay with me forever.”

Smith subsequently took to his social media pages, urging his fans to support War Child. For his 26th birthday, in 2018, Smith asked that his friends, family and fans make donations to War Child instead of buying him birthday gifts. After releasing his hit single “Too Good at Goodbyes,” in 2020, he launched a four-city mini-concert tour, with all profits from the ticket sales going toward supporting War Child.

War ravages land and people, however, children face disproportionate impacts of war. Through the efforts of War Child, children living in conflict-riddled lands can look toward a brighter tomorrow.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: PxHere

Child Soldiers in Somalia
Among Somalia’s numerous human rights crises is the recruitment of child soldiers. Not only is Somalia one of the countries with the most child soldiers, but its living standards are not improving. This article discusses five facts about Somalia’s child soldiers, along with hopeful measures which could improve the situation in the foreseeable future.

5 Facts About Child Soldiers in Somalia

  1. Somalia possesses the largest number of children who have died during war in the world. Somalia’s ongoing civil war led to drastic measures, including child recruitment into armed forces. In 2017, Somalia recorded 931 children killed at war, along with 2,127 children used in conflict. Additionally, Somalia verified the recruitment of 6,163 children between 2010 and 2016.
  2. There are many different ways to recruit child soldiers. Children’s rights in Somalia rank a 3.6/10 on the Children’s Rights Index. This ranking places Somalia in the Black Level for children’s rights, within the worst conditions in the world. This is due to several prominent factors, including the lack of education, forced displacement, sexual abuse and lack of food. All of these things happen to the majority of child soldiers in Somalia. Children as young as 9 years old suffer enlistment into Somali armed forces, both willingly and forcefully. According to reports, a majority of these children actually recruit themselves voluntarily. Often, militant groups trick child soldiers into believing that they are helping their country by doing so. Additionally, in many cases, militant groups kidnap these children and forced them into armed services. The abduction of children occurs strategically. The children targeted usually congregate in places where they are vulnerable and in large numbers, including churches, schools and orphanages. Others choose them based on their height and physical conditions.
  3. Militant terrorist organizations recruit most child soldiers. Many believe that Somalia’s government willingly allows the military to recruit children. However, this is not true. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the military that recruits these children, but, instead, terrorist groups fighting against the Somali government. The most prominent of these groups, Al-Shabaab, defines itself as an independent militant group that broke away from the Union of Islamic Courts. Al-Shabaab often demands teachers, elders and rural communities to provide them with children 8 years old and older to help them fight. Al-Shabaab has taken the most extreme measures, such as beating, raping, torturing and killing people who refused to give away their children. Over the past 10 years, Al-Shabaab recruited thousands of children to be child soldiers. In total, Al-Shabaab recruited 70% of all child soldiers in Somalia.
  4. Militant groups choose child soldiers for various strategic reasons. One might question why groups like Al-Shabaab target children since children are physically weaker than adults and lack fighting skills. However, targeting children as recruits supports Al-Shabaab’s goal to oust Somalia’s government. Firstly, children are likely to be more vulnerable than adults. Others can easily persuade them to fight for their country, thus making them believe that their contribution is voluntary and will benefit Somalia. The children who become child soldiers do not only serve as frontline fighters. Militant groups use many children as looters, spies, messengers or informants. Additionally, the physical weakness of children makes them prone to sexual assault from their terrorist leaders, who entrap some children as sexual slaves. Lastly, children present better targets than adults since they require less food and water to live. Groups like Al-Shabaab feed child soldiers just enough to survive and function in the war while remaining weak enough for physical manipulation.
  5. Organizations working against child soldiers in Somalia are making progress. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an organization that supports residents from areas liberated from Al-Shabaab. Recently, its work focuses on helping residents resettle after losing their homes in battle. Since child soldiers have a high risk of re-recruitment unless properly reintegrated into society, its initiative to take on such a difficult issue demonstrates progress. The AMISOM Civil Affairs Officer, Christopher Ogwang, speaking about recent developments, stated, “Our responsibility is to do reconstruction where necessary. We are also extending our services to rehabilitate social facilities like schools, hospitals and police stations.”

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, this treacherous issue will not undergo resolution overnight. However, organizations like AMISOM are doing their part in saving Somalian children from becoming child soldiers. The rest of us can contribute to the struggle by keeping informed about these issues and spreading information. Doing as little as this can help take a huge step towards saving child soldiers in Somalia.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Child Soldiers in Iraq
The use of child soldiers in Iraq is pervasive, with the practice going as far back as 1975, manifested in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party initiative that strove to create a paramilitary organization for children as young as 14 years of age. Thousands of child soldiers volunteered by 1988, many of them wishing to fight against Iran between 1983 and 1985. Drafting became relatively unpopular due to labor shortages, a ramification of child deaths. As ISIS paraded through countries like Iraq and Syria in the coming years, it also learned of the idea of recruiting children to become soldiers.

The Nearer Past

The 1969 Military Service Act, coupled with resolutions that the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) engendered, determined that the pickings for conscription during times of war were up to the RCC’s discretion. According to Human Rights Watch, conscripting children younger than the age of 15 is a war crime and the age that constitutes a violation under international law is 18. Human Rights Watch has censured the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), operating as the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as PKK, and the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS), also with ties to PKK, following an investigation uncovering 29 documented cases of child conscription.

“The PKK 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 younger than 15 constitute war crimes,” says Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

The Influence of Poverty

COVID-19 briefly exacerbated poverty in Iraq, with children and adolescents in Iraq bearing much of the burden. An additional 4.5 million Iraqis who moved below the poverty line increased the percentage of impoverished people in Iraq by 11.7% from the 20% mark in 2018. However, the 20% statistic has since fallen to 24.8% due to the governmental decision to attenuate health regulations, somewhat stimulating the economy.

Eliminating child soldiers in Iraq and beyond requires, among other things, a focus on ending poverty. NGOs like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Iraq Child Rights Network are taking a crucial step in the fight by succoring Iraqi and Syrian refugees and empowering them to rebuild their lives. These NGOs also champion healthy childhood development by working in tandem with official bodies like UNICEF to enable laws that bode well for children in Iraq respectively.

Many factors, including poverty, abduction, threat, manipulation, survival and protection, compel children to prematurely engage or aid armed combatants, although poverty and manipulation tend to be especially pervasive. A suffusing of refugee camps, an answer to conflict, especially explosive ones, presents an abundance of children who are devoid of proper guidance through loss of family or legal guardianship, leaving them at mercy of manipulative and despotic fighters to fill the void. Whatever the reasons, child involvement in armed conflict is a solemn breach of child rights and international humanitarian law.

A Ramification of the Past

The power vacuum that resulted from the deposition of Saddam Hussein left many combatants struggling for power in the region, eventually giving birth to ISIS, a Sunni-insurgency from Iraq, which caused devastation that the world came to know. As ISIS annexed parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in 2014, the group began to envision a lasting caliphate that could not and would not last, except with an incoming generation of properly indoctrinated subjects. The recent conquests of ISIS, which displaced approximately 700,000 students from proper education, left the terrorist group with a sea of students susceptible to recruitment.

The Child Soldier’s Prevention Act of 2008

Remedying the issue of child soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere is perplexing. Military action risks both a moral dilemma and the potential for intra-conflict for any given military that may otherwise intervene. One can attribute some progress in the battle against the conscription of child soldiers in Iraq to the enactment of the Child Soldier’s Prevention Act of 2008, which has employed the method of engagement of publicly identifying countries involved with child soldiers and restricting security assistance to such countries under the condition that the call to cease child involvement in war goes unheeded.

Prohibition of licenses for direct commercial sales of military paraphernalia, foreign military financing, international military schooling, peacekeeping operations and superfluous military equipment have undergone implementation in order to target countries, albeit said countries may receive a full or partial waiver under the condition that the response to active restrictions brings forth a favorable response. Although Iraq remains a designated country under CSPA ruling, it received a full waiver of restrictions from the Trump administration in 2020, indicating that the country took steps to demobilize, reintegrate and rehabilitate child soldiers.

Geneva Call

Although states largely experience penalties for child conscription, non-state organizations are the usual perpetrators. The restrictions push these states to fight against the issue at home, though this has not kept non-state actors out of earshot of organizations like Geneva Call, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that began in March 2000. Geneva Call tasks itself with enlightening conflict actors on their responsibility as soldiers and informing an inflicted population of their rights.

The HPG and YBS came under close scrutiny by Geneva Call following a Human Rights Watch report noting their involvement in recruiting child soldiers in Iraq. In November 2016, 31 leaders, commanders and advisers of armed movements from several countries, including Iraq, partook in workshops and discussions regarding child protection in armed conflict. The opportunity aimed to educate groups on international norms while seeking pragmatic means of achieving and maintaining adherence to these guidelines.

Using children for military gain branches out of poverty, itself a progenitor of war. Legislation, advocation, education and its complements are not without merit, but eradicating the use of child soldiers once and for all is only possible if countries commit to reducing abject poverty within their borders.

– Mohamed Makalou
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Human Trafficking in Afghanistan Afghanistan currently faces a large-scale human trafficking crisis that is rooted in centuries of abuse. Children and women are sold or kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery or armed forces. With the Afghani Government failing to properly protect victims and prosecute perpetrators, the U.S. Department of State and a network of NGOs are working to alleviate the problem.

The Systemic Issues

One of the major issues contributing to the human trafficking crisis within Afghanistan is the continued practice of bacha bazi, or “dancing boys”, in which sexual abuse against children is performed by adult men. Although technically illegal, the centuries-old custom has been proven hard to get rid of, with many government and security officials being complicit with its continuation.

The U.S. Department of State has declared Afghanistan Tier 3, the highest threat level, meaning that it does not meet the minimum requirements for combatting human trafficking and is not making a significant effort to do so.

This has a significant impact on Afghanistan because according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the United States will not provide nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance to a country that is ranked on Tier 3. According to the June 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, the use of child soldiers and bacha bazi has continued. Although there have been investigations and arrests made in an attempt to end bacha bazi, no police officers involved were prosecuted.

Addressing Human Trafficking in Afghanistan

The Afghani Government has shown efforts to end human trafficking within its borders. In 2019, it joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on a global initiative to stop human trafficking. This initiative aims to allocate resources to countries in the Middle East and Asia that need assistance in the battle against human trafficking.

USAID reported that in 2019,  Afghanistan increased the number of Child Protection Units within national police precincts, preventing the recruitment of 357 child soldiers. Furthermore, the National Child Protection Committee (NCPC) was created to respond to the practice of bacha bazi.

USAID has worked to assist the Afghani by training government officials to prosecute human traffickers and abusers as well as giving assistance to shelter workers that give legal and social resources to victims. It assisted in the creation of the Afghanistan Network in Combating Trafficking in Persons (ANCTIP), a network of Afghan NGOs that work with victims of human trafficking.

NGOs within the country have provided most of the assistance to victims of human trafficking. Approximately 27 women’s shelters in 20 provinces provided protection and care for female victims of trafficking. NGOs also operated two shelters for male victims under the age of 18.

Eradicating Human Trafficking

In order for Afghanistan to efficiently combat its human trafficking crisis and move to a lower tier level, Afghanistan needs to increase criminal investigations and prosecutions of suspected traffickers, especially in law enforcement and the military. Furthermore, traffickers must be convicted and adequately sentenced. This can be done by increasing the influence and powers of the NCPC and allowing the committee to remove public servants found practicing bacha bazi. Additional support from the country’s government must also be given to survivors of human trafficking. Only by rooting out the systemic abuse within the top institutions of the country can Afghanistan effectively address its human trafficking crisis.

– Christopher McLean
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