March 01, 2018

New child soldiers database reveals shocking scale of recruitment

The systematic abuse of child rights continues unabated in many places around the world

Photo credit: Child soldiers International

Billy Briggs

Education in emergencies writer

Children have been used in wars in at least 18 countries since 2016 - and they are increasingly being used as human bombs, says Child Soldiers International.

The shocking scale of child soldier recruitment around the world has been mapped by a new online database developed by Child Soldiers International.

The Child Soldiers World Index is the first comprehensive worldwide resource on child recruitment - and it reveals children have been used in wars in at least 18 countries since 2016.

Speaking to Their News, Child Soldiers International (CSI) said it has identified new trends on the issue, including the increasing use of children as human bombs. The NGO also said it is “vital” to protect children’s education through safe schools to help prevent their recruitment by armed groups and to rehabilitate former child soldiers.

"The exploitation of children in armed conflict remains at disturbing levels around the world," said Rachel Taylor, director of programmes at Child Soldiers International.

CSI’s Child Soldiers World Index exposes the true extent of child exploitation by both state armed forces and militias. It reveals how the systematic abuse of child rights continues unabated in many places around the world including countries often overlooked by international media attention.  

The World Index covers all 197 United Nations member states and includes more than 10,000 data points, offering authoritative data on national laws, policies and child recruitment practices worldwide. 

Since the adoption of OPAC – the child soldier treaty in 2000 – 167 states have banned the use of children in armed conflict and at least 85 criminalise child recruitment. 

But the World Index shows that since 2016 children have been by armed groups and/or armed forces in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The use of children, including large numbers of girls, as "human bombs" is one alarming new trend - while abduction, detention and torture of children continue in numerous conflicts. More than 20% of the 197 UN member states still enlist children into their militaries, including 17 states which enlist as young as 16.

167 states have banned the use of children in armed conflict and at least 85 criminalise child recruitment

Photo credit: Child Soldiers International / Klana Hayerl

Taylor said: “Exploitation continues to take multiple, and often extreme, forms and the use of children as ‘human bombs’ is one distressing area which has seemingly become more prevalent and sustained in recent months.

“In northeast Nigeria, for example, the use of children as suicide bombers by militants groups, including Boko Haram, increased four-fold during 2017. In the first eight months of the year 83 children were used as ‘human bombs’ in the region – four times greater than in the whole of 2016. 66% of them were girls.”

Taylor also talked about the importance of safe schools for children’s education. She said: “Education is vital. All children have the right to access education in a safe environment without the fear of attack or recruitment."

Theirworld's #SafeSchools campaign calls for schools to be safe from attacks and military use. In a briefing published in December, we said every country should sign the Safe Schools Declaration - an international commitment to protect education from attacks and stop the military use of schools. Mali has just become the 73rd nation to sign. 

Of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, only one has signed. Theirworld's Safe Schools petition urges Russia, China, the United States and United Kingdom to follow France's leadership.

Rachel Taylor said: “As we have witnessed in our projects in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, education can have a profound impact on children returning from armed conflict. The overriding wish for many of the former girl soldiers we interviewed in the country was to go back to school. 

"Many of the girls suffered extreme discrimination by communities on the return home because of their experiences in armed groups and education was seen as one of the strongest ways to improve their position in society. To date, we have helped 177 former girl soldiers return to education across Eastern DR Congo.

“However, rehabilitation efforts need to go far beyond education. There must be a focus on community acceptance and initiatives to help returning children feel valued again back home and listening to their specific needs. 

"The rehabilitation of children formerly in armed groups is not an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution, it must be tailored to each environment and focus on the needs of each child.”

CSI says the deliberate targeting of children for military recruitment violates states’ legal duties under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

The majority of governments are committed to eradicating the recruitment of children around the world. However, there are many challenges which remain.

Rachel Taylor, director of programmes at Child Soldiers International

Research has shown that children who are recruited into military and armed groups suffer serious and long-term harm, even when they are not used in war.

CSI is now calling for all countries to adopt a "Straight-18" standard for military recruitment and to establish concrete policies which ensure no child is recruited for war.

The World Index also plots key developments in international policies and treaties and documents the international criminal cases relating to the recruitment and use of children. 

Taylor said: “It is hoped the World Index will be an invaluable resource for child protection actors, governments and other concerned parties. In mapping the recruitment environment globally, we are able to see the great strides made over the years.

"The majority of governments are committed to eradicating the recruitment of children around the world. However, with 30 countries still to do so and more than 23% of states worldwide still enlisting under-18s into their militaries there are many challenges which remain.”

Armed forces and non-state armed groups are exploiting children all around the world

Photo credit: UNICEF / Matas

At a glance: Child Soldiers World Index

  • Recruitment practices of 197 UN member states mapped online for the first time 
  • 109 countries have a "Straight-18" policy for military recruitment in practice, meaning a minimum age of 18 for enlistment as well as deployment 
  • 46 states (23%) still recruit under-18s into their armed forces in practice 
  • Children have been used in hostilities by both state armed forces and non-state armed groups in at least 18 conflicts since 2016 
  • At least 85 countries criminalise the recruitment of children by non-state armed groups and/or state armed forces 
  • 27 countries operate so-called "military schools" where children – in some cases as young as 15 - are classified as members of the armed forces and are compelled to enlist after graduation 
  • Since it was adopted in 2000, 167 countries have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (‘OPAC’) – the child soldier treaty
  • The United States of America is the only UN member state not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child
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