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 Iraq

With 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

Child Soldiers in Syria
Since 2011, war has ravaged Syria and drastically changed the lives of millions, especially for children. An estimated 2.6 million Syrian children now live in other nations as refugees. More than one million of the refugee children do not have access to education, and an additional 1.75 million children who remain in Syria also do not attend school. Millions of Syrian children live in extreme poverty, which drives them to become soldiers in an extremely dangerous conflict.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Syria

The recruitment of children under the age of 18 by armed groups has been rising in Syria as the war continues. In 2016 alone, 851 children were recruited to be child soldiers in Syria. In that same year, 652 children died and 647 were maimed, and these numbers are rapidly rising. In January and February of 2018, 1,000 children were killed or injured in the Syrian conflict.

Some of these child soldiers have been kidnapped by armed groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS). Others are young Arabs or Muslims from Europe who have been convinced by radical groups like ISIS to leave their homes and join the fight against the Syrian government. Many, however, are children in Syria or in refugee camps in neighboring countries who have volunteered to become soldiers.

Syrian children often volunteer to become soldiers because of the dire situations in which their families live, situations caused by the war. By 2015, 80 percent of Syria’s population lived below the poverty line, and the situation has continued to worsen. With the unemployment rate in the country at 57.7 percent at the beginning of 2015, millions are struggling to survive. In addition, more than 90 percent of refugee families in Lebanon are at risk of food insecurity, and 80 percent in Jordan live in poverty.

For these families that are struggling to survive, the benefits that armed groups offer child soldiers in Syria can be life-saving. Some parents believe their only option is to send their children to fight for ISIS or ISIS-affiliated groups in return for financial subsidies. Other children join the Free Syrian Army (FSA), one of the main rebel groups fighting the Syrian government. The FSA provides its fighters with monthly benefits including salaries. Additionally, the FSA offers refugees in the Zaatari refugee camp precedence in receiving food aid and cash assistance that are crucial to their survival.

Providing a Solution

Alleviating Syrian poverty could be a crucial step in reducing the number of child soldiers in Syria. This could be done by providing Syrians with humanitarian aid, like helping them get food and homes and jobs. Children will be less vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups if they and their families are living in more stable situations.

The United States is mobilizing humanitarian aid to provide food, water, education and medical services to Syrian children and their families. International aid and the acceptance of refugees are also key. However, the “humanitarian needs inside Syria continue to outpace the international response.” Increased aid from the U.S. and other nations is key to relieving poverty in Syria and surrounding nations and reducing the number of children that are recruited to be soldiers.

– Laura Turner
Photo: Flickr

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