Child abuse and Child labour are not the sole problems faced by the world today. There is an emerging global concern about the increasing participation of children in armed forces. According to Amnesty International, “Approximately 250,000 children under the age of 18 are thought to be fighting in conflicts around the world.”
• Over 50 countries currently recruit children under age 18 into their armed forces. • The Human Rights Watch Report (2008) states that a few under 18 soldiers in the UK were sent to Iran. • 30% of the child soldiers are girls. They are often sexually exploited by the commanders and military leaders. • Myanmar with over 70,000 recruits is said to have largest number of child soldiers serving its national military.
Who is a child soldier?
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) defines child soldiers as 1. “any child—boy or girl— 2. under eighteen years of age, 3. who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity.”
This age limit was established in 2002 by the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Prior to this fifteen years was globally recognized as the minimum age for participation in armed conflict.
History: Child Soldiers
1. About ten thousand children participated in the Children’s Crusade of 1212.
2. Nazi’s had employed child soldiers to carry out their underground operations.
3. In Ancient Greece young boys about seven years old were recruited in the military forces.
4. After the Second World War the British established various “Small Boy Units” in various colonies.
Thousands of children are recruited by both state and non-state actor military forces. The children are mostly “programmed” to act as mechanical soldiers by the military leaders. In countries like Uganda the child soldiers are often made habitual to tranquilizers including cocaine and other drugs. The LTTE leaders used young boys for their Karate practices. According to CNN correspondent Arwa Daman; the children in poor countries are shown bright colored images of female virgins and rivers of milk which depict a picture entirely different from their harsh realities.
Usually the young girls are treated as “sex-slaves” by the military leaders. In some countries, the villages are required to fulfill certain recruitment quota. At times these children are kidnapped from streets, homes, play grounds and parks on gun point. In order to increase their courage they are often asked to participate in brutal crimes like rape, murder and abduction; occasionally against their own family members.
1. Poverty and lack of education
2. Vulnerability of Children particularly from displaced families and Third World Nations.
3. Some of the terrorist organizations recruit kidnapped children in their forces (L.T.T.E was one such kind).
4. The sophisticated modern day weapons can be easily operated by a child.
5. Children constitute cheap military force that can be comfortably manipulated by the commanders.
Child Soldiers: India
Child Soldiers are recruited in several parts of the country including J&K, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, Sikkim, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka. The children are mostly used in tribal communities and insurgents. Most of them (both boys and girls) are below the age of 14 years. They live in poor conditions and are usually given “food” as a reward for work. They are treated as “safe carriers” of arms, ammunitions and information..
1. Governments should ratify, implement and enforce the standards of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
2. Governments should ensure the protection of displaced and orphan children.
3. The former child soldiers must be properly rehabilitated.
4. The governments must ensure universal birth registration which would help in age verification.
5. Proper training and education must be provided to army personnel to prevent such recruitments.
6. Psychiatric and Medical help along with education and vocational training must be given to former child soldiers.
7. The recruitment of children in non-state armed forces need be checked by the respective state parties.
8. Constitution of separate independent agencies to deal with the situation of child soldiers in various countries.
9. The countries must alter their respective domestic laws to make under-age recruitments punishable criminal offence.
10. Generally when a minor is caught by the state agencies; his age is exaggerated in the official records to facilitate harsh punishments. Such practices must be discouraged.
The lack of political will on part of people and government have helped the perpetrators to change innocent youth into blood sucking monsters. It would not be wrong to say that “child soldiers” are not only a threat to the society but also a threat to themselves.
They are exploited sexually, emotionally and psychology by the same forces which they pledged to serve. Their trauma holds them back to lead a perfectly normal life in future. There is an urgent need to address the issue on both national and international front.