Myanmar
Children, exploitation and guerrilla warfare have become an unfortunate triad all too familiar amongst the people of Myanmar. A country rife with decades of internal armed conflict, the nation relies on the recruitment of underage Myanmar child soldiers into its national army, Tatmadaw Kyi, to help supply ethnic wars with manpower.

Who and What

The children’s purpose? According to Hope for the Nations, the youths are needed to serve and “defend the drug lords of the area at the cost of losing their parents, families, homes and even their own lives.” In fact, some children are recruited and trained at the mere age of 6.

An excerpt from a compilation of personal accounts from former Myanmar child soldiers reads: “Living under armed guard, Arkar Min received one meal a day—a bowl of rice with some oil and salt. He had no bed and slept on the concrete, using his lungi as a pillow. There were six other conscripts, most of them 15; the eldest was 17. None of them had joined voluntarily—they’d been offered work, hoodwinked, kidnapped, and sold into service.”

The Why: Political Instability

It’s near impossible to look at these human rights violations of Myanmar’s youth without looking at the country’s political climate. Following the 1948 breakaway from the United Kingdom, the nation was ignited in upheaval and political turbulence. One of the major causes of these debilitating occurrences was the ethnic minority groups who were unable to compromise on the multi-faceted dilemma of sharing political power. An overwhelming surge of battles erupted between indigenous groups, which led to the enlistment of their vulnerable youth in armies as a chance to seize power.

State armed forces eventually acquired power in 1962, and Myanmar fell under even greater distress. A corrupt and oppressive military dictatorship reigned for virtually 50 years, failing to condemn or control ethnic wars and child soldier recruitment and exploitation. Luckily, 2011 brought hope to the nation when the military handed over power to a civilian government.

A Breach In Corruption

The nation’s established civilian government has brought sought-upon relief to countless families, citizens and children. Not only has the government advanced the national armed forces to more professional levels, but it has also released hundreds of underage children who were wrongfully recruited into war.

The U.N. estimates that thousands of people have been displaced as a result of internal conflict and fighting. According to Aljazeera, in 2015 the military released 146 underage recruits; since its agreement with the U.N. to end the recruitment of children into the military, 699 have been released.

Renata Lok-Dessallien, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar stated, “I am delighted to see these children and young people returning to their homes and families. We are hopeful that institutional checks that have been put in place and continued efforts will ensure that recruitment of children will exist no more.”

Hope For the Youth

There exist many initiatives that aim to eradicate the exploitation of Myanmar child soldiers. Project AK-47, for example, reaches child soldiers and brings them from hopelessness to hopefulness and care. Planting themselves in highly regulated and classified regions of Southeast Asia, members of the Project provide the oppressed youth with basic needs like shelter, food, clothing and education, as well as deeper needs like spiritual care and love.

The utmost goal of Project AK-47 aims to mentor the children into becoming leaders within their own communities. According to Hope for the Nations, some of them will end up as teachers, government leaders, or even workers on tea plantations. It is vital that they are taught how to create a positive impact amongst their own communities and regions, and to carry the spirit of excellence with them wherever they may go.

Positive Redirection and Potential Solutions

Following in line with hopeful solutions, Myanmar’s November 2015 Parliamentary election ensued a large victory for the National League of Democracy. So much so that citizens remain hopeful that their new government will mend the country’s broken human rights situation. This is the time where advocacy will ring strong, and where advocates’ voices of concern will hold ground with developing governments.

A unified voice from the world and from native citizens to remove children from army ranks is a push in the right direction. According to Child Soldiers International, advocates “will be engaging with the national authorities and civil society to see Myanmar opt in fully to the relevant international laws and ensure that domestic laws that prohibit child recruitment are fully observed.” The ultimate goal is loud and clear: to protect the rights of Myanmar’s voiceless youth is to eradicate the recruitment and the exploitation of underage children within the military.

– Mary Miller
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in Nigeria

Violent conflicts largely incited by the militant group Boko Haram continue to ravage northeastern Nigeria and the larger Lake Chad region. Due to these conflicts, youths in the area face the unwanted yet real menace of being recruited as child soldiers in Nigeria.

Parties Recruit and Abduct Children for War

In 2016 alone, there were 2,122 cases of deployment of children for military purposes in Nigeria, according to a 2017 United Nations report on children and armed conflict. The report also stated that Boko Haram used four boys and 26 girls for suicide attacks in 2016; 13 more children were killed in November and December by the Nigerian security forces, which suspected them of carrying bombs.

Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a vigilante group that opposes Boko Haram, also recruited child soldiers in Nigeria, though they were mostly used for supporting roles. The Nigerian Security Forces (NSF) was also accused of deploying children in warfare.

A United States 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report pointed out that children merely 12 years old were recruited by NSF. The report also explains that some of the child soldiers in Nigeria were originally arrested or detained for alleged connections with Boko Haram and might have been forced into military operations by the state.

“Human Bombs”

Some suicide bombers were as young as seven or eight years old. In a bombing in Maiduguri in December 2016, two young girls set off explosions in the middle of a crowded market, killing at least one and injuring 17 people.

“They got out of a rickshaw and walked right in front of me without showing the slightest sign of emotion. I tried to speak with one of them, in Hausa and in English, but she didn’t answer. I thought they were looking for their mother. She headed toward the poultry sellers, then detonated her explosives belt,” local militia member Abdulkarim Jabo told United Press International.

In only the first eight months of 2017, 83 children were made into “human bombs,” more than doubling the number of child suicide attacks in the entire year of 2016. Most of the children used were girls.

Reintegration for Child Soldiers in Nigeria

Children who were able to escape from Boko Haram often suffered further from rejection as they tried to reintegrate into civilian life, as the use of child soldiers in Nigeria aroused fear and distrust among the general public. Child soldiers also have to endure severe physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Those who return home often face discrimination and even ostracization by their families, including girls who were forced to be “wives” in captivity.

The United Nations calls for the unconditional release of children from armed forces worldwide and the increase of resources for the purpose of reintegration and education of released children. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated in 2017 that 65,000 children worldwide had been released from armed groups in the past decade.

U.S. Government (USG) Programs Support Highly Vulnerable Children

On June 7, 2018, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Stuart Symington announced a $112,000,000 donation to assist with humanitarian efforts in the region. USAID will manage the use of funds via Food for Peace, Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration. Ambassador Symington said that among its recipients, the donation would go toward helping child victims of the violent conflicts in the area, many of whom have been forced to separate from their families.

USAID and other USG agencies have cooperated to mediate similar humanitarian programs around the world. A USAID program based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) helped reintegrate previous child soldiers through communication campaigns that directly talk to local community leaders, psychosocial counseling, family tracing, education, financial support, etc.. In a single year, the program identified 1,905 children and provided them with health and psychological support.

More attention must be given to the children being exploited by these groups. With the continued efforts of government programs, there is still hope for child soldiers in Nigeria.

– Feng Ye

Photo: Flickr

Congo child soldiers
Since the 1990s, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced extreme violence between armed forces and diverse groups of rebels. Many armed forces have since recruited thousands of child soldiers. Today, the U.N. has declared the recruitment of Congo child soldiers an “endemic.

The Situation

The head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, has stated that “This situation is unacceptable and has been going on for much too long with impunity. Recruiting children into armed groups is a crime, and destroys the lives of the victims who are forced to do things that no child should be involved in.” MONUSCO reported that an estimated 8,546 children were recruited into diverse armed groups in the DRC between 2009 to 2015. By recruiting more and more Congo child soldiers, it will only create a cycle of violence passed down to further generations. Not only are children forced to leave their families, but they are used as fighters and sex slaves, often leaving them in a position deprived of all educational attainment and daily trauma. Nevertheless, when child soldiers return back to their communities, they are often shunned by their families and are unable to reintegrate into all aspects of society.

Recruitment of Girls

Many children are forced into a life of violence unwillingly, but in some cases, children believe that by joining armed groups, it will give them an escape of a life plagued by poverty. It’s often difficult to obtain accurate data on the number of girls recruited by the DRC’s armed groups however, Child Soldiers International states that almost 7 percent of child soldiers are girls. This number is seemingly disproportionate, leaving many girls unaccounted for.

A Huffington Post interview indicates that many girls cannot afford the fees of local schools and believe that joining local militia groups would ensure security, food and a life outside of poverty. Nevertheless, many parents of girls believe that their daughter’s recruitment will protect their village from plundering and attacks. However, as one past girl soldier interviewed says,  “I would wake up and find myself naked…They gave us drugs so that we would not get tired of all of them using us.” Young girls soon find out that recruitment means a life of sexual abuse and slavery.

The Future

It must be noted, that with the help of the DRC’s government and international efforts, the recruitment of Congo child soldiers is steadily declining. In 2009, the DRC adopted the “Law for the Protection of Children,” making the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict illegal. In 2012, the government also signed a “Plan of Action with the United Nations to prevent and put an end to the recruitment and use of children, as well as other serious violations of children’s rights committed by security forces.” In this way, the country has begun to take serious measures against the recruitment of child soldiers.  Furthermore, many organizations such as Child Soldiers International are working to ensure that past child soldiers receive an education and are working to integrate them back into society.

– Emma Martin
Photo: Flickr

South Sudan
Child soldiers were brought to the attention of the American public in 2012 when the “KONY2012” campaign, aimed at dismantling a Ugandan warlord, soared in publicity. However, children being used in combat is not new to various regions of Africa, including South Sudan.

Children in Combat

In 1983, civil war broke out among the Sudanese people, eventually creating in 2011 the countries known today as Sudan and South Sudan. This war led to the separation of families, murders, poverty, lack of educational resources and most notably, South Sudan child soldiers.

According to the International Rescue Committee, the number of children fleeing South Sudan in 1985 to escape recruitment as soldiers in the civil war was as high as 20,000. This number is shockingly high with a 1985 population of only five million in South Sudan. Children fled to neighboring Ethiopia only to die from hunger, dehydration, crossfires and wild animals along the way.

Draws of South Sudan’s Military

Due to outcomes associated with the war, South Sudan has been unable to properly maintain nutrition among its citizens in recent years. Often, children are only guaranteed meals and housing if they enlist in the South Sudanese military, leaving them with the choice between staying unarmed, educated and hungry, or armed, fed and uneducated. Children may choose to join the military simply as a means of survival.

South Sudan child soldiers are known to be used in every way that an adult soldier would be used. Children are given and taught how to use assault rifles, engage in direct combat (as spies), and serve as cooks for troops among other activities.

The prevalence of South Sudan child soldiers seemed to dissolve throughout the early 2000s; however, over the last several years, the numbers have begun to creep up again. In 2013, South Sudan ended a several-year-long ceasefire when tensions between different ethnic groups rose.

Hope for South Sudan

When the war resumed, the children of South Sudan were again recruited for combat. This sparks a series of issues for the South Sudanese people over the next years, such as infrastructure instability, economic poverty, food shortages, violence and poor education.

Although the situation in South Sudan may seem bleak, there is very real hope. South Sudan is rich in diversity with many different religious practices and ethnic cultures. While the tensions between different ethnic groups have instigated a large amount of violent tension, the different groups each bring something unique to the cultural brand of South Sudan.

A history of aid workers present in the country assists the country’s development and recovery from its civil wars. The next few years will be a pivotal time in shaping the future of the Republic of South Sudan and its children, so time will tell if child treatment improves.

– Alexandra Ferrigno
Photo: Flickr

Child soldier in SomaliaSince 1991, the Federal Republic of Somalia has been involved in an ongoing civil war being fought between the transitional federal government (TFG) and al-Shabab militants.

This civil war continues to acquire worldwide attention for its recruitment of child soldiers, often used by al-Shabab and the Somali National Army (SNA).

Child Soldiers in Somalia

Child soldiers are children or individuals under the age of 18 who are used for any military purpose. As of 2016, 1,915 children have been recruited and used in the Somali civil war.

The number of child soldiers in Somalia has almost doubled since 2015 because of an increase in al-Shabab abduction cases. Out of 950 children abducted since 2015, 87 percent were abducted by al-Shabab. The SNA is also responsible for 920 cases of child soldiers. Here are 10 key facts about child soldiers in Somalia.

Top 10 Facts About Child Soldiers in Somalia

  1. Child soldiers are not only used to fight in the war. Though some children serve as combatants, others also serve as porters, messengers, spies and cooks. Young girls are forced to marry al-Shabab militants or recruited as sexual slaves in brothels.
  2. Children are recruited as soldiers because they can be easily coerced. They are more likely to comply and be easily influenced than adults. Al-Shabab relies on recruiting child soldiers because they are easier to manipulate.
  3. Seventy percent of child soldiers have been recruited by al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has recruited and trained children as young as age nine to be combatants. Over 50 percent of al-Shabab members are believed to be children, according to the U.N.
  4. Poverty and living in a combat zone can increase the probability of a child becoming a child soldier. Some poor children decide to join a military organization if there is a lack of access to education or to end a poverty cycle. Living in a combat zone also causes separations between children and their families.
  5. Child soldiers and children in Somalia endured 18 cases of denial of humanitarian access to children. Clan militias (10), al-Shabab (5), the SNA (2) and Puntland armed forces (1) are responsible for the grave violation.
  6. Hardships and abuse do not end when child soldiers are arrested and detained. The special circumstances of children who were recruited and coerced into war activity are unrecognized. Child soldiers in detention are threatened, tortured and forcibly sign confessions.
  7. In 2001, SAACID implemented the first Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program in Mogadishu, Somalia. SAACID (pronounced ‘say-eed’ in Somali, meaning ‘to help’) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on improving the lives of women, children and the poor. Programs were created by the U.N. to reintegrate child soldiers into society, but these still lack the protection of rights of children. Former child soldiers of al-Shabab also fear to leave DDR compounds and possible reprisal from al-Shabab.
  8. Once reintegrated, former child soldiers have difficulty finding a job with little to no skills or education. UNICEF and INTERSOS offer vocational training programs for former Somali child soldiers. The program offers training in plumbing, carpentry, electrical and tailoring. In 2016, over 900 former Somali child soldiers received these services.
  9. The SNA takes measures to improve the protection of children. The SNA formed a plan of action with the U.N. that follows Security Council resolutions 1539 and 1612.
  10. The Dallaire Initiative establishes a child protection advisor in the African Union Mission of Somalia (AMISOM). The British Peace Support Training Team in Kenya will train members from AMISOM, SNA and the Somali National. The training will instruct how to counteract the use of child soldiers.

AMISOM and Future Developments

AMISOM held a forum with the security sector and AMISOM military in November 2017. The meeting primarily focused on the disadvantages of recruiting child soldiers and policies and law enforcement that can prevent it.

According to Musa Gbow, AMISOM’s Child Protection Advisor and coordinator of the workshop, “We have to ensure that the Federal Government and Federal member states continue to work together especially with regards to dealing with the prevention of the recruitment and use of children as soldiers in the conflict in Somalia.”

Recent developments, like Gbow’s dedication to creating a child protection policy at the federal and regional level, create hope for the futures of all children of armed conflict.

– Diane Adame
Photo: Flickr

Africa
In a world of limited choices, becoming a child soldier can sometimes seem like the closest thing to freedom. Since 2012, more than 14,000 children have become Central African Republic child soldiers. At merely eight years old, these children are vulnerable targets and used as human shields, combatants and spies for various rebel militia groups in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Civil Conflicts and Child Soldiers

The CAR has experienced civil turmoil since gaining its independence from France in 1960. The current civil conflict began when the rebel Muslim group Seleka took control of the predominantly Christian country in 2013, overthrowing then-President Francois Bozize. While the 2016 election of current president Faustin-Archange Touadera inspired hope among many, government security and control of the widespread violence remains largely in the CAR’s capital Bangui.

Contrary to popular belief, Central African Republic child soldiers often join rebel militia groups by choice. Children who voluntarily join militias often live in impoverished areas with unstable conditions. Desperate for food and a sense of protection, these children decide to become child soldiers in hopes of a better life. Although many child soldiers join these militias by choice, some are forced into these roles with drugs.

Central African Republic child soldiers are used as spies and messengers for their rebel groups because they aren’t as suspect as adults. Boys are more readily thrown into conflict than girls, but both sexes are exploited; sometimes, they are sexually abused.

Community Integration of Combat Children

With little or no education prior to joining, these children are unaware of the true nature of the situation. Many have lost the guidance and protection of loved ones and seek revenge on groups that may have killed family members. Rebel militia groups take advantage of this by offering support and aid to their cause.

Releasing child soldiers from their militias and reintegrating them into safe communities presents a persistent problem. Advocacy group Child Soldiers International (CSI) offers continued support in fighting child military recruitment internationally. Thankfully, progress is being made in this area.

CSI has led education initiatives to bring awareness and education regarding child soldier recruitment and devastation in the CAR. One such effort supported by CSI, UNICEF, United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) and Enfants sans Frontieres (ESF) was the publishing and distribution of illustrated booklets that explained the effects of child soldier recruitment to communities affected in the CAR. In May 2018, workshops regarding child soldier recruitment, devastation and laws preventing further recruitment were held in Bangui.

Child Soldiers International

CSI supports the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) treaty, ratified in September of 2017. OPAC sets the minimum age for military draft and involvement at 18, which is also the minimum age for non-state armed groups; however, 16 is the minimum age for state armed forces recruitment.

According to CSI, “Since OPAC was adopted, 166 of 197 states (84 percent) have ratified the treaty.” CSI’s three-year plan entitled ”Declare 18!” intends to raise the minimum draft and involvement age to 18 in 100 percent of states with armed forces by 2020. Continued support of such organizations will continue to change the discourse of this exploitation in the CAR.

– Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr

Countries with Child Soldiers
The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a ‘child’ as a person below the age of eighteen years. Children across the world have been used as soldiers in state and non-state military warfare, including World Wars I and II.

The 1970s saw a rise of humanitarian groups that raised the awareness of protecting children from the onslaughts of war, and it was during this time that the word “child soldier” appeared as an unacceptable condition. Though the 2002 Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court made enlistment of children under fifteen a war-crime, countries with child soldiers have consistently fallen behind in addressing this issue.

The United Nations (U.N.) estimates that, at present, approximately 300,000 children are used as child soldiers in more than 20 countries in the world, and forty percent of these children are girls. According to the U.N.’s 2017 studies, these are some of the countries with child soldiers:

Countries with Child Soldiers

  1. Central African Republic (CAR): The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) helped release more than 2,800 child soldiers in CAR in 2014. Poverty leads children from a lot of families to join the militia for food and money. Children as young as 8 years old are used as soldiers by groups in Christian militias known as Anti-Balaka and Muslim Séléka coalition. Soldiering involves being used as human shields, messengers, fighters and sex slaves.
  2. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The Congolese National Army and the rebel Congress for the Defense of the People have been active recruiters of child soldiers. Young boys and girls are abducted and used as fighters and sex slaves by groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army. This occurs not only in DRC, but also southern Sudan, northeastern Congo and the CAR.
  3. Somalia: Children as young as ten are often abducted and coerced into soldiering. The Transitional Federal Government and Islamist group al-Shabaab are known to carry out these recruitments which lead to “horrific abuses,” according Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports. These violations include forced recruitment, rape, forced marriage, religious/political teaching, suicide-bombing, combat and weapons training.
  4. Colombia: Thousands of children are recruited by guerillas and paramilitary forces like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, the Camilist Union-National Liberation Army, and the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. HRW reveals, “At least one of every four irregular combatants in Colombia’s civil war is under eighteen years old.” These children are recruited, trained and expected to carry explosives and executions.
  5. Myanmar: The HRW report, ‘Sold to be Soldiers’ (2007), states that a large portion of the Tatmadaw consists of underage soldiers. In a lot of instances, young boys are lured or coerced into joining the Tatmadaw. In addition to this horrific occurrence, there are numerous non-state armed groups like the Karenni Army, the Karen National Liberation Army and others that use child soldiers.
  6. Afghanistan: The U.N. reports the use of young children as fighters and suicide-bombers in Afghanistan. In Child Soldiers, David Rosen points out the prevalence of underage soldiers in groups like The Afghan National Police, Haqqani, Taliban, Islamic groups called Hezb-i-Islami and Jamat Sunat al-Dawa Salafia, and Tora Bora front.
  7. Iraq: The Sunni and Shia Arab groups fighting in the region — along with other militias involved in the battle for Mosul — are reported to recruit child soldiers. According to HRW reports, Yezidi and Kurdish boys and girls are used as combatants by groups like the Shingal Resistance Units and People’s Defense Forces.
  8. Yemen: Children as young as 14 are deployed here as soldiers by the Yemeni Government to combat the Houthi rebels. UNICEF regards this as more of a socio-cultural problem, as in Yemeni culture, manhood begins at the age of 14 and such adulthood demands the taking up of a weapon. In 2015, the U.N. reported 850 recruitments of children as soldiers. Armed groups like Al-Qaeda also use children for warfare and as sex slaves.
  9. Syria: The civil war in Syria has led to the deployment of many children as young as seven as soldiers by armed groups. Rebel factions fighting against the government and Islamic groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya, Tawhid Brigade and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham use child soldiers. These children are used to ferry ammunitions, fight, tend to the wounded, spy, act as snipers and suicide-bombers, and torture and execute prisoners.
  10. Sudan and South Sudan: More than a dozen armed groups, including pro-government militias, groups affiliated to the Sudan Liberation Army, and Sudanese Armed Forces, in Sudan, recruit children. In South Sudan, the South Sudanese Armed Forces and other opposition groups continue to deploy child soldiers. HRW notes that children as young as thirteen are abducted, detained and forced into soldiering.

The Fight of International Aid Organizations

Wars, absence of education, poverty, religious/political conditioning and abduction are some of the causes that contribute to this social crime. UNICEF and ILO have been working with government ministries to stop the use of child soldiers by both state and non-state parties. Programs sponsored by UNICEF and various human rights groups aim towards rehabilitation of child soldiers, building community networks, funding and providing education.

Child Soldiers International has been working with local organizations and advocating the protection of children and reintegration of former child soldiers. HRW has been creating information databases on recruitment patterns of a number of agencies in these countries. Though change is slow, the attempt to improve the condition of millions of children in countries with child soldiers remains consistent.

– Jayendrina Singha Ray
Photo: Flickr

Child soldiers in Afghanistan
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.

 

Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Yemen child soldiers
As of March 2015, the United Nations has confirmed that at least 2,369 children have been recruited as Yemen child soldiers. Some of these children are engaged in active combat.

Child recruits in the Middle East and North Africa have doubled within a year as of 2017. According to southern Yemeni officials, there may be as many as 6,000 child soldiers throughout the country and 20,000 are in need of war rehabilitation. The situation in Yemen has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 18.8 million people needing aid and seven million going hungry.

The United Nations has argued that children and young people are receiving the worst of the conflict’s repercussions. The organization claims Houthis were responsible for 359 of 517 cases of Yemen child soldiers in 2016; 76 were recruited by government-backed groups like the Popular Resistance and the coalition. Others were recruited by Al Qaeda and its associated groups.

The Yemen conflict was set in motion in 2014 when the northern Shiite Muslim rebels, or the Houthis, allied themselves with the military and took over the Yemeni capital of Sana and other cities due to discontent with the government and president. In retaliation for the Houthis’ strike against the government, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations became involved in the conflict.

Since 2015, Saudi airstrikes have been led in an attempt to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. The Houthis, backed by Iran, and the Saudis, backed by the U.S., U.K. and France, effectively tore the country apart with their fighting, splitting it between the north and the south.

In some ways, the destruction and conflict have forced families to view their children as valuable resources. The child soldiers’ pay of $55 every three months may be necessary to keep the family afloat, while female children are married off in exchange for a dowry. Furthermore, recruits are given a hot meal daily; 47 percent of Yemeni children suffer from stunting due to malnourishment.

The Houthis have promised monthly allowances of $80-120 to the families of child soldiers in the event that their children were to die. The group will print posters in memory of fallen Yemen child soldiers, as well.

Continuous violence and destroyed infrastructure puts civilians, and especially children, in a precarious situation.“With no end in sight to these conflicts and with families’ dwindling financial resources, many have no choice but to send their children to work or marry their daughters early,” UNICEF’s Regional Director Geert Cappelaere explained to The Guardian.

In 2014, the Yemeni government signed an action plan with the U.N. that contained a list of stipulations to ensure that there would be no more use of child soldiers. Unfortunately, progress on this front has been stalled due to the conflict and the issue of Yemen child soldiers has not yet been resolved.

Still, organizations like U.N. relief agencies continue to help where they can. “We remain committed to helping the people of Yemen. We have reached nearly six million people with clean water, distributed 3.7 million liters of fuel to public hospitals [and] treated more than 167,000 children for severe acute malnutrition,” U.N. leaders conveyed.

– Camille Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Worst Countries to be a Kid
Poverty, famine, violence and abuse have robbed many children of their childhoods. About 9.2 million children die every year, and that does not include the kids who manage to survive in harsh and dangerous conditions. Countless children must learn to survive in times of war, starvation and less than adequate health services. The following are a few of many worst countries to be a kid.

War-Torn Countries: Afghanistan and South Sudan

In Afghanistan, a country ridden by war, about 1.9 million children are in need of assistance. Not only do these children battle against the poverty of their country, but they are also caught in the crossfire of the war.

This is one of the worst countries to be a kid because of the dangers of war. In the first nine months of 2017, about 700 children were killed in Afghanistan; civilian-populated areas have seen a sharp increase in violence in the past years, and a majority of victims were children. In fact, there has been a 9 percent increase in child mortality.

If children survive these vicious attacks, the experiences then lead to severe distress and trauma. Studies have shown that children who survive attacks have a higher chance of suffering from psychological issues and experiencing a negative impact on long-term development. While children are innocent bystanders in Afghanistan, other countries include youth as children soldiers.

South Sudan is in the midst of a violent civil war, and the National Liberation Movement has taken it upon themselves to recruit children into its armies. South Sudan is one of the worst countries to be a kid because the majority of the time, children are forced to become soldiers against their will.

More than 700 children have been taken into the National Liberation Movement, and more than that were kidnapped or brought in by force.

Many of these child soldiers were taken at such a young age that their military existence has become their way of life. This can cause kids to feel trapped and less likely to seek escape. Earlier this year, about 300 children soldiers were released from the Liberation, but their ranks will unfortunately only be replaced.

Child Sex Trafficking: Thailand and China

As of 2004, 800,000 children under the age of 16 were trapped in the sex trade in Thailand alone. Thailand is the most prominent countries for sex tourism, and more than half its victims are kids.

Many of the children are foreigners because traffickers usually seek children who come from immigrant families. These children are a diverse group from Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, India and Bangladesh, and it is not hard for recruiters to find children since parents or brokers will use kids as an avenue to earn money.

China is also known for its part in child sex trafficking. Similar to Thailand, children in China are subjected to prostitution and the sex trade. Traffickers target vulnerable children who are either disabled with mental disabilities or who are from migrating families.

Improvement in the Worst Countries to be a Kid

Though these facts are disheartening, international organizations such as UNICEF are working to prioritize children’s safety. The organizations have impacted numerous areas across Africa, East Asia, the Pacific and parts of Europe, and now continue to fight to decrease the number of worst countries to be a kid across the globe.

– Cassidy Dyce

Photo: Flickr