Child Soldiers
Around 250,000 children around the globe are child soldiers.

Child soldiers are people under the age of 18 who are used for military purposes. They can be boys or girls and can range in age from four to late teens. The tasks of a child soldier vary from fighting to being a messenger. Discussed below are the three leading organizations that help child soldiers recover from being involved in such activities.

Organizations Helping Child Soldiers

Child Soldiers International

Child Soldiers International is an organization based in London that has been around since 1998. Established by other leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Child Soldiers International works to end recruitment and use of children on behalf of armed groups.

Among things such as reduction of violations and promoting the ban on child recruitment, the organization puts an emphasis on reintegration. For instance, Child Soldiers International offers literacy and numeracy classes for girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organization also advocates “to increase the quantity and quality of reintegration programs.”

War Child

War Child, a Canadian based organization, has been around since 1999. “By providing access to education, opportunity and justice, War Child gives children in war-affected communities the chance to reclaim their childhood.” With better education and opportunity, one can better resist the appeal of armed groups.

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF)

UNICEF has been committed to children for the past 70 years. UNICEF has played a big role in helping children around the world by releasing children associated with armed forces and providing them with assistance to return home. The organization supports a variety of recovery services such as physical and mental health, education and skills training.

Since 1998, UNICEF has helped more than 100,000 former children associated with armed groups reintegrate into their communities. The organization discourages the use of the term ‘child soldier’ as it doesn’t adequately include the variety of roles children are recruited to do for military purposes.

These three organizations helping child soldiers recover are making a difference in the lives of children around the world who find themselves caught in the conflict.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr

child soldiers
Since 2013, various countries have taken steps to end child soldiering in order to meet international human rights standards.

In accordance with these standards, the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar Armed Forces, has released 176 child soldiers since signing a joint action plan to end the recruiting of children for military service.

Earlier this year, Yemen signed an action plan with the United Nations to end recruitment of child soldiers and by doing so, “formalized its commitment to protect its future generations,” says Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

Similarly, UNICEF and partners arranged for the release of over 1,000 children from military service in the Central African Republic after the country made headlines earlier this year for having over 6,000 children involved in armed conflict.

It is estimated that there are 300,000 child soldiers in the world today, and 40 percent of armed forces around the world use children to fight in their battles. Although the thought of a child soldier is foreign to Americans and citizens of developed countries, it is all too familiar to those of undeveloped nations. Child Soldiers International has reported that since January 2011, the use of child soldiers has been found in 19 different countries.

Children are taken by militias to fight because children are far more malleable than adults. They are also less costly due to the fact that they are given fewer resources and smaller weapons – although they are more likely to be seen on the front lines. Because of this, children are more likely to die in battle than adult soldiers.

Children who survive have lasting psychological effects, which include PTSD and stunted mental development. When there is failure to integrate back into society, there’s a likely chance these once child soldiers will return to battle because it’s all they’ve known.

If the children are released from duty with the help of UNICEF, like in the Central African Republic, they meet with social workers, are taken to a transition center where they can receive an education or learn a vocational skill and are given help in locating their families.

Upon the release of the child soldiers, UNICEF Representative in the Central African Republic Souleymane Diabaté said, “Every single child we spoke to said they wanted to leave the armed group and return to school. We cannot fail them.”

– Kori Withers

Sources: Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers International: FAQ, Forbes, United States Institute of Peace, UN News Centre, UNICEF Press Centre 1, UNICEF Press Centre 2, UNICEF Connect
Photo: UN