Ethiopia’s long history of armed conflicts endangers the well-being of children, subjecting them to trauma and putting them at risk of recruitment for combat. Child soldiers in Ethiopia are continuously caught between the chaos of conflict and political instability. Their rights are violated as they find themselves susceptible to physical harm, sexual violence and abductions.
The debris of the Tigray War, which ended in 2022, has brought a new internal conflict to the country. Ethnic relations and political tensions between Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) caused the Tigray War to break out in 2020. The TPLF had previously been the leading force in control of the federal government, opposing Ahmed’s agenda. The Tigray War was notably characterized by ethnic violence and became of international concern.
During the war, the TPLF army used child soldiers in Ethiopia as a shield, positioning them on the front lines of the war zone. While the use of child soldiers is a violation of human rights and international law, the TPLF denies the proven accusations, stating that the children are only used to collect and gather weapons left behind.
After the war and under the premise of wanting to minimize crime based on ethnicity, the Ethiopian government began fighting militias and regional forces. This even included ones to which the government was an ally during the Tigray War, most notably the regional forces of Amhara. According to a 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia published by the U.S. Department of State, both militias and the government are using child soldiers in Ethiopia in the current conflict. The Ethiopian government also denies the allegations.
Becoming Child Soldiers
Children become child soldiers for different reasons. Some are kidnapped; others are threatened or manipulated into joining. Armed forces favor kids for their physical endurance and because they raise fewer suspicions. However, some of them become soldiers as a way to escape poverty.
Child soldiers are not only those on the front lines; they are also used in war in any other capacity. This includes using children as cooks, spies or most recently suicide bombers. Girls who are recruited are subject to gender-specific vulnerabilities such as sexual assault, sex trafficking and unwanted pregnancies.
The Fight Against Child Soldiers
Child soldiers are victims who are forced onto battlefields and manipulated to stay. Many struggle to re-integrate into society when conflicts are over and face discrimination by their families and communities.
Organizations such as Children and Armed Conflict, part of the United Nations, focus on combating the recruitment of children for war. As stated on the site, “The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child outlaws child soldiering, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child established 18 as the minimum age for children’s participation in hostilities.”
The campaign Children, Not Soldiers, launched in 2014, achieved a wide range of success in the fight against child soldiers. Despite ending only two years later, long-lasting actions were achieved, such as the end and prevention of child soldiers in the DRC and Sudan. While the campaign had a major impact in other African countries, Ethiopia did not become part of the campaign.
Ethiopia’s continuous state of conflict endangers children and perpetuates a cycle of child soldier recruitment. While the issue has drawn international attention, there is much more work required to end the phenomenon of child soldiers in Ethiopia.
– Paula Pujol-Gibson