Child soldiers are children under 18 years of age who are recruited by armed groups to fight in a war or civil conflict. These child soldiers are often forced to participate in violent acts and are in danger of being raped and killed. They are also at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and are at risk of being impregnated.
The UN estimates that there are at least 300,000 child soldiers in 30 countries. Females make up 40% of child soldiers worldwide. Girls are targeted because of their greater vulnerability in conflict-ridden countries. Their exposure to violence may also cause problems with their cognition, emotional status, and social skills.
As a result of their recruitment, many child soldiers experience extreme forms of stigma. This can lead to barriers to access to services and support, such as marriage, family life, and employment. It can also lead to re-recruitment. Reintegration programs are crucial to help former child soldiers recover. When children return home, they are often shunned or excluded from society. Women and girls are even more vulnerable to the stigma associated with being a child soldier, leading to sex trafficking.
The best way to stop the recruitment of child soldiers is to address the causes of this recruitment. In order to do this, governments must exert pressure on state actors to stop their recruitment practices. Moreover, it is important to promote sanctions against state actors who engage in indirect support of child soldiers.
The UN has identified 14 countries where children are widely used as soldiers. The majority of these countries are located in Africa. Among them are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mali.
These countries are responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers and should be held accountable. According to the United Nations Secretary General, 8,521 children were recruited as child soldiers in 2020. There are still tens of thousands of child soldiers in armed conflicts around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Approximately half of these children are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.
Recruitment and use of child soldiers is prohibited by international law. Some child soldiers are forcibly recruited, while others choose to join armed forces because they are desperate or feel a need for social and economic support.
During conflicts, child soldiers are most likely to be recruited by non-state armed groups. However, the use of child soldiers by recognized state actors is also widespread. Non-state actors that are signatories to the Organization for the Prohibition of the Arming of Children and Adolescents (OPAC) are barred from recruiting anyone under 18. Additionally, the president is permitted to apply for a “national interest waiver,” allowing him to bypass the law.
While reintegration is a critical step in preventing the re-recruitment of child soldiers, it is difficult for girls and women to reintegrate. This is because the stigma attached to them prevents them from seeking support and marriage. A reintegration program can help them regain the social and emotional support they need.