human rights news & views

New commitment to ending child soldiers

Recruiting child soldiers under the age of 18 is a crime under international law. Recruiting children under the age of 15 is a war crime. The International Criminal Court‘s first trial will be that of DRC warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, charged with recruiting child soldiers as young as 10.

The term ‘child soldier’ refers to any child made part of any armed group in any capacity, including cooks, porters, messengers, sex slaves and those carrying weapons. UNICEF estimates that some 300,000 children are participating in 30 conflicts worldwide.

Representatives of 58 countries met in Paris last month to sign a non-binding agreement to end the use of child soliders, including DR Congo, Chad, Sudan and Uganda, where the practice is particularly bad.

These African nations are among 110 already bound by a treaty agreed in 2000, an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (OP-CRC-AC), and among the 163 countries party to 1999’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (ILO Convention 182), both of which prohibit the use of child soldiers.

The USA, a donor nation, and the Philippines, home to a high number of child soldiers, are party to both the Optional Protocol and the ILO Convention, but have refused to participate in this latest accord. As of December 2006, Australia is the newest party to the ILO Convention on child labour.

The Paris Principles also unveiled at last month’s conference tackle the root causes of child soldiers. "Some are abducted or forcibly recruited," says UNICEF, while "others are driven to join by poverty, abuse and discrimination, or to seek revenge for violence enacted against them or their families."

former child soldier Ishmael BeahPrevention and rehabilitation of survivors are equally vital. Says former Sierra Leonean child soldier Ishmael Beah (pictured):

“No one is born violent. No child in Africa, Latin America or Asia wants to be part of war. These are situations children are forced into . . . [O]ver time, because they are traumatized and constantly given drugs, this becomes habitual – the only reality they know."

“It is easy to become a child soldier, but it is much more difficult to recover one’s humanity. But it is possible.”


  1. 8 December 2007 | 10:32 pm

    Ishmael Beah was in November 2007 appointed UNICEF’s first Advocate for Children Affected by War.  Responding to his appointment, on the 18th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, Beah said:

    "[W]hat I’ve dedicated my life to doing . . . is to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t continue to happen to other children around the world.  I know the nature of what it is to be forgotten, what it is to lose your humanity, and more importantly, what it is to recover from it and to have another life.”

  2. Mike
    19 February 2008 | 3:45 pm

    What you should dedicate your life to, Beah, is telling the truth, not telling more lies.

  3. Ty
    18 March 2008 | 3:20 am

    this is bad. really bad. why? why do they have to use kids. its stupid. kids with guns and forced to have sex.

  4. Akshay Verma
    8 July 2008 | 9:08 pm

    hello i think it is not good.

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