Though sometimes mischievous, a child’s intentions are always innocent. But for tens of thousands of children around the world under age 18, innocence has been replaced with violence and bloodshed—instead of playing with a soccer ball or studying with pen and paper, they’re handed bombs, machetes and guns.
Children almost inevitably become involved when armed conflict exists. Those affected typically come from homes stricken by poverty and lacking options. They’re deceived, indoctrinated or forced to train and work within an armed force in traumatic roles such as guards, sexual slaves and suicide bombers. Some feel that they have no other option, voluntarily becoming involved because their families are desperate for the income it would provide, or because they long for the sense of belonging it appears to offer.
Who is affected?
Over 19 countries have been known to use child soldiers. While concealment makes it impossible to accurately calculate how many child soldiers exist, it is estimated that tens of thousands of girls and boys as young as eight are actively involved in government forces or non-state armed groups.
Afghanistan in particular has rising figures of child soldiers, usually between the ages of 12 and 16 and mainly associated with the Afghan National Police and extremist groups.
Progress so far
Although the issue of child soldiers is far from resolved, many countries are beginning to take widespread action, seeing thousands of children freed from armed conflict.
In 2010, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s armed forces and groups joined with the United Nations peacekeepers from the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to free over 1000 girls and boys from their ranks. Likewise, UNICEF and the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) facilitated the release of over 200 children in that country, and the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) helped to liberate almost 1000 children over the last year.
Many countries have willingly signed or ratified an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which allows participating countries to recruit children under the age of 18 as long as they are not involved in combat roles. Some countries—including Chile, Italy, Jordan, the Maldives, Sierra Leone, Slovenia and South Korea—have recently increased the minimum age for voluntary recruitment to 18 years. Australia is one of 63 countries that allow children under 18 to be voluntarily recruited to the military.
(US State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report – June 2010, International Journal of Children’s Rights 18 (2010) 535–549, “The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict – Towards Universal Ratification”)
Compassion does not directly engage with the issue of child soldiers. Our holistic child development model does, however, mitigate the risk of a child becoming involved with armed conflict. Our Child Sponsorship Program can be a preventative measure against the issue of child soldiers, as each child is known to centre staff, has their wellbeing monitored and is assisted to complete primary school, which provides them with more options.
The Child Sponsorship Program uses a holistic child development model to help release children from every aspect of poverty, with the goal that by graduation every child will:
- Demonstrate commitment to the lordship of Christ
- Choose good health practices and be physically healthy
- Exhibit the motivation and skills to be economically self-supporting
- Interact with other people in a healthy and compassionate manner.