Conflict Barrier

Child Soldiers

Ten countries were using child soldiers in 2013 in government military operations, compared to seven in the 2012. These ten are the Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Myanmar, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

How does child soldier recruitment act as a barrier to enrollment and participation?

Here are some facts about Child Soldiers:

  • The use of child soldiers has spread to almost every region of the world and to every armed conflict.  The number is always increasing.
  • 20 states have been reported to have child soldiers in government, government-affiliated, and non-state armed groups. Additionally, 40 states still have minimum age recruitment requirements under 18 years.
  • Some children are under the age of 10 when they are forced to serve.
  • Children who are not forced to be soldiers volunteer themselves willingly because they feel societal pressure and are under the impression that volunteering will provide a form of income, food, or security.
  • Girls make up an estimated 10 to 30 percent of child soldiers used for fighting and other purposes. They are especially vulnerable when it comes to sexual violence.

Children abducted and forcibly recruited by the military, or those who volunteer and are removed from the civilian population, cannot benefit from formal or non-formal education opportunities. The recruitment of child soldiers therefore reduces demand. Many such children will have previously had limited access to education or lived in a combat zones where education services are paralyzed.

When child soldiers are demobilized and reintegrated into civil society, demand is rekindled. Establishing a new identity for reintegrating the child soldier will depend on productive activities and new learning.  Identity and positive meaning in their civilian life is gained through appropriate, contributive roles in their families and communities.

Access to education is one of the most often requested supports by demobilized child soldiers. In Liberia, 77 percent of former child soldiers said they wanted to return to school. This is often forgone, however, for economic reasons.

The dual aspects in reintegration programs are therefore to provide education alongside economic opportunity:

  • Accelerated formal education or alternative education modalities
  • Supporting livelihood needs with income generating opportunities and market-appropriate vocational training

Access to formal education presents special challenges for the reintegration of child soldiers; yet former child soldiers and their families overwhelming see this as the best path to a new future.

In spite of their experiences, children are resilient and can contribute constructively to reconstruction and reconciliation efforts if given appropriate help, support and encouragement.

How pervasive is it?

There are reports of non-government armed groups using child soldiers in additional countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Some infamous non-state armed groups, such as the Lord’s Resistance Army operating in Central Africa and the rebel militias in the Philippines (Sayyaf, New People’s Army, Moro Islamic Liberation Front) have been recruiting or using child soldiers for many years.

An alarming trend emerged during 2013 of numerous non-state armed groups abducting, recruiting, and exploiting children in conflicts that erupted in Africa and in the Middle East. In northern Mali, there were reports of large-scale recruitment of children into separatist groups including Ansar al-Dine, Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Syrian opposition armed groups recruited children, some as young as 14, in combat and military support roles.  During its rebellion against the government of the Central African Republic, the Seleka coalition, an amalgamation of numerous armed groups recruited and used children in the front lines of combat, some of whom were killed during fighting.

Many of the countries where child soldiers have been reported are EAC priority countries, including Myanmar.

Myanmar case study

Myanmar is eighth on the list of most extreme countries for risk of children being recruited into the military.  Children have been often forcibly conscripted into the national army (Tatmadaw Kyi) and deployed to areas where state forces have been fighting armed opposition groups. In June 2012, after protracted negotiations with the UN, the Myanmar government signed an action plan under which it has committed to release all those who are under 18 years old.

Advertisement outside an army barracks in Myanmar is captioned: "Should he be sent to school or the army?"

Child recruitment is also used by armed opposition groups such as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Kachin Independence Army, Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army, Karenni National Progressive Party/Karenni Army, Shan State Army South and the United Wa State Army. Many have been recruited from the age of 11 and will have missed out on, or not completed, primary education.

EAC’s anticipated partnership with organizations in Myanmar may give priority to giving a second chance to former child soldiers to enable them to complete their primary education.

Further reading