Child Soldiers in Nepal
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Child soldiers
Child soldiers in Nepal
Children in Armed Conflicts
Coalition to Stop The Use of Child soldiers
Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 SUMMARY
Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 SUMMARY

Coalition to Stop The Use of Child soldiers
New York, 20 May 2008

Child soldiers: progress, but too little
Benchmarks for change
Facts & figures on child soldiers
Voices of child soldiers
Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR)

For the complete Global Report, please visit:

Child soldiers: progress, but too little

Four years is a long time in a child's life. Much can happen that will touch the rest of their lives for good or for ill. Some children may live their lives in situations of peace and security. For countless others war continues to be all too real. Over this aspect of the adult world they have little say and no control. Four years is sufficient for substantial developments in the life of a global movement.

The last Global Report was published by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (Coalition) in November 2004; since then the movement to end the use of child soldiers has seen continued progress towards a universal consensus against their use in hostilities, witnessed by the fact that over three-quarters of states have now signed, ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

On the ground, the consensus would appear to be reflected most clearly by a decrease in the number of conflicts in which children are directly involved - from 27 in 2004 to 17 by the end of 2007. The Coalition's research for this Global Report shows, however, that that this downward trend is more the result of conflicts ending than the impact of initiatives to end child soldier recruitment and use. Indeed, where armed conflict does exist, child soldiers will almost certainly be involved. The majority of these children are in non-state armed groups, but the record of some governments is also little improved.

The figures for conflict do not reveal the whole picture. The military recruitment of children (under-18s) and their use in hostilities is a much larger phenomenon that still takes place in one form or another in at least 86 countries and territories worldwide. This includes unlawful recruitment by armed groups, forcible recruitment by government forces, recruitment or use of children by militias or other groups associated with armed forces, their use as spies, as well as legal recruitment into peacetime armies.

The findings make it clear that, despite the high level of international attention on the issue, the impact of that attention is yet to be felt by many children who are, or are at risk of becoming, child soldiers. They have reinforced the fact that a complex range of co-ordinated responses by multiple actors are required to achieve the goal of preventing children's involvement in armed conflict, obtaining their release and supporting successful reintegration. This will involve a more explicit recognition of child soldiers on the agendas of those involved in a whole range of initiatives, from conflict prevention, peacemaking and mediation through to peace-building and longer-term development.

Ultimately, if, over the next four years, the international community is to make good its promise to protect children from military exploitation, the level of political will, the amount of human and financial resources, the adherence to established best practice and the quantity as well as the quality of collaborative effort and imaginative endeavour must all be multiplied.

International efforts continue

The international framework to protect children from involvement in armed forces and groups has been reinforced and efforts have focused increasingly on field-level implementation. The first important steps towards establishing individual criminal responsibility for those who recruit and use children in hostilities have been taken. War crimes charges relating to the conscription, enlistment and active participation in hostilities of children under 15 years old have been issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against members of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda.

A landmark in international justice was forged by the conviction in 2007 by the Special Court for Sierra Leone of four people on charges that included the recruitment and use of children during the civil war. The pursuit of justice has also been furthered by the work of truth commissions in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste and recently Liberia, all of which have addressed the issue of child soldiers.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (Optional Protocol) - the most specific prohibition of child soldiers under international law - has now been ratified by 120 states, up from 77 in mid-2004. The United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child began to examine state party reports on the Optional Protocol implementation in January 2005. Their concluding observations are generating an increased momentum towards developing modalities for protecting children from military recruitment and use, as well as providing an insight into further measures that many governments must take if they are to achieve this goal.

Building on previous actions, the UN Security Council adopted resolutions 1539 (2004) and 1612 (2005) calling for the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict. Now set up in around a dozen countries, the mechanism is tasked with documenting six categories of grave abuse against children, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, in the situations of armed conflict listed in the annexes of the UN Secretary-General's regular reports on the topic.

A Security Council working group on children and armed conflict was set up in 2005 to review reports submitted under the mechanism and to monitor progress in the development and implementation of time-bound action plans by warring parties to end their recruitment and use of child soldiers. The working group has issued conclusions based on the reports, transmitted letters and appeals to parties engaged in violations, and taken a range of other actions on situations where abuses against children have been committed.

The first actions by the Security Council to apply targeted measures against individuals specifically for recruiting and using children were taken in 2006, when a travel ban was imposed on an armed group leader in Côte d' Ivoire . A Security Council resolution the same year sought to subject to travel bans and asset freezing leaders in the DRC who recruited or used child soldiers.

Regional bodies have also continued to focus attention on this issue. The European Union's (EU) 2003 Guidelines on children and armed conflict were given practical direction by an implementation strategy issued in 2006.
The same year a checklist on integration and protection of children was adopted to ensure that child rights and protection concerns are systematically addressed in European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) operations and mission planning.

The African Union (AU) renewed its calls for its member states to ratify the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child by the end of 2008 and to enact relevant implementing legislation by 2010. The Charter requires state parties inter alia to refrain from recruiting children and to ensure that they do not take direct part in hostilities. On the ground, tens of thousands of child soldiers have been released from armies and armed groups since 2004 as long-running conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa have ended.

A major initiative to gather and compile accumulated experience from the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of child soldiers around the world culminated in the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups (Paris Principles). Endorsed by 66 governments at ministerial meetings in February and October in 2007, including many from conflict-affected countries, the Paris Principles offer guidance on protecting children from recruitment and on providing effective assistance to those already involved with armed groups or forces.

The large-scale recruitment and deployment of children by government forces in countries such as Burundi, Côte d' Ivoire , Guinea and Liberia ceased with the end of conflicts. More than half of countries worldwide have set the minimum age at which an individual can enter the military, including for training, at 18. In response to international pressure and local initiatives, several armed groups have committed themselves to ending the recruitment and use of children.

Groups in Côte d' Ivoire and Sri Lanka are working with the UN to develop and implement time-bound action plans to release children and prevent their recruitment. Ethnic armed groups in Myanmar have agreed to do likewise.


Real protection requires redoubling of effort

While the general direction is positive, the pace of progress is slow and its impact is not yet felt by the tens of thousands of children in the ranks of fighting forces. The international framework offers little real protection for countless others who are at risk of recruitment and use in conflict.

The Coalition has documented information on 21 countries or territories where children were deployed to areas of conflict between April 2004 and October 2007. Within this period conflicts ended in two of the 21 - Indonesia and Nepal - and so too did child soldier use there. Although this is fewer than the preceding four years, the Coalition's research reveals a number of disturbing findings that make it clear that the efforts to date have been insufficient.

The first of these findings is perhaps the most stark. It is this: when armed conflict breaks out, reignites or intensifies, children will almost inevitably become involved as soldiers. The Central African Republic, Chad, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan (Darfur) are all cases in point.

Next, efforts to demobilize children during conflict have met with only limited success. Peace remains the main hope for securing the release of child soldiers from armed forces and groups, a fact that further reinforces the importance of child protection being integral to peace negotiations, as well as the need for explicit provisions relating to child soldiers in ceasefire and peace agreements.

The impact of efforts to end child soldier recruitment and use by armed groups has been similarly limited. Armed groups in at least 24 countries located in every region of the world were known to have recruited under-18s and many have used them in hostilities. Many have proved resistant to pressure and persuasion. Their widely diverse characters, aims and methods, and the varied environments in which they operate militate against generic solutions. Effective strategies must be multifaceted and context-specific.

Above all, they must address root causes. Poor governance and its effects, including impoverishment, inequality, discrimination and human rights abuses, are all known to contribute to the risk that children will be recruited by armed groups. While such conditions persist, children will remain vulnerable to involvement in armed forces and groups.

The number of governments that deployed children in combat or other frontline duties in their armed forces has not significantly decreased since 2004. Children have been used in armed conflict by government forces in nine situations compared with 10 in the previous four-year period. The most notable offender remains Myanmar, whose armed forces, engaged in long-running counter-insurgency operations against a range of ethnic armed groups, are believed to contain thousands of children.

Children were also reported to have been used in hostilities in Chad, the DRC, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. Additionally, Palestinian children were used on several occasions by defence forces in Israel as human shields. There were reports of child soldier use by Yemeni armed forces in fighting in 2007. A few under-18s in the UK armed forces were sent to Iraq.

The flouting of international standards by governments extends beyond official armed forces. Children in at least 14 countries have been recruited into auxiliary forces linked to national armies; into local-level civilian defence groups established to support counter-insurgency operations; or into militias and armed groups acting as proxies for government forces. In at least eight countries children were used as spies and for other intelligence-gathering purposes, placing them at risk of reprisals and ignoring government responsibilities to provide protection and reintegration assistance.

Despite growing knowledge of best practices for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of child soldiers, lessons learned from past efforts have continued to be overlooked in the implementation of official programs. In many DDR processes the needs of child soldiers were not prioritized and in some were entirely overlooked. Reintegration programs were frequently not tailored to their specific needs and have suffered from chronic under-funding.

The repetition of mistakes has been acute in relation to girls. The special needs and vulnerabilities of girls affected by armed conflict have long been recognized, yet they are not well served by DDR processes. The vast majority of girls associated with fighting forces do not participate in official DDR programs and are not catered for in post-demobilization support. Specialized medical care for physical injury resulting from rape or sexually transmitted diseases is rarely available. Girl mothers and their children, often born of rape, are known to be particularly vulnerable, but continue to suffer stigmatization and rejection by their families and communities. Universal responsibilities under the Optional Protocol to protect children against recruitment and to promote the recovery and reintegration of former child soldiers have yet to be fully realized.

When former child soldiers flee their country of origin, asylum processes and special measures facilitating their recognition as refugees are frequently lacking in destination countries, as is the provision of adequate services for their recovery and social reintegration. The legal framework to criminalize the recruitment and use of child soldiers and to establish extraterritorial jurisdiction over such crimes is also far from complete. Finally, many state parties have undermined the spirit, if not the letter, of the Optional Protocol by continuing to target under-18s for military recruitment.

While a number of states have raised the age of voluntary military recruitment within the past four years, at least 63 countries permitted the voluntary recruitment of children by their armed forces; 26 were known to have under-18s in the ranks. Others introduced children, often at a very young age, to military culture through military training in schools, cadet corps and various other youth initiatives.

Placing children's rights ahead of military needs requires far-reaching shifts in values and attitudes. Until it is accepted that childhood extends to 18, and that the spirit of the Protocol expects more of states than just amending the age of conscription, children will continue to be at risk of becoming soldiers, especially in times of crisis.


Benchmarks for change

In four years time the Optional Protocol will have been in force for a decade. The next four years cannot be allowed to go by without more progress to show. The ultimate judges of that progress will be children whose lives are blighted by their involvement in conflict and for whom international attention is of little comfort unless it changes their individual circumstances for the better.

The damage resulting from the experience of being a child soldier may never be fully repaired. However, much can be done to lessen it. A great deal can also be done to prevent other children from ever suffering the same experience. The task is most urgent in situations of armed conflict, but if the recruitment and use of child soldiers is to be definitively ended there must be global recognition that armed forces are no place for a child. On this basis, the Coalition is opposed to the military recruitment or use of any girl or boy under the age of 18.

The benchmarks against which the progress over the next four years towards this goal will be judged include:

A complete end to the use of children in hostilities in any capacity by government armed forces and by any forces linked to or supported by governments including auxiliaries, militias and civilian defence organizations.

A significant increase in the numbers of non-state armed groups that have developed action plans to prevent the recruitment of under-18s and the release of children within their ranks; these armed groups are
being supported and monitored in their implementation of such plans.

The inclusion in all ceasefire and peace agreements of provisions for the immediate disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers.

The inclusion of provisions for children in the design of official DDR programs and the consistent application of the Paris Principles in the implementation of all DDR initiatives, taking account of context-specific needs and realities. The inclusion as a matter of course of specialized culturally appropriate programs for girls, and the building into donor planning of long-term financial support for reintegration.

The establishment by governments in countries with child soldiers (but no peacekeeping operation) of programs to identify and release such children and support their reintegration.

The development of multi-faceted, multi-agency strategies to prevent child recruitment and use by armed groups, involving legal, institutional, social, economic and cultural measures in all high-risk situations including countries affected by conflict and those where armed groups operate or where conflict is possible.

The explicit criminalization in domestic law of underage recruitment (i.e. conscription and enlistment) and use of any persons under the age of 18 to participate in hostilities and the establishment of universal jurisdiction for such crimes.

Progress towards the systematic investigation and prosecution by national and international courts of individuals suspected of recruiting and using children in armed forces and groups. Where relevant this crime would also be addressed by other transitional justice processes, including truth commissions, reparations and vetting.

The establishment of effective measures for refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant children in destination countries to protect those who may have been recruited or used in hostilities. This includes ensuring their early identification and providing them with culturally and child-sensitive assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.

A significant increase in the number of countries that have abandoned domestic provisions that allow children to be legally recruited into the armed forces at the age of 16 or 17 and have adopted a "straight-18" standard for all forms of military recruitment.

Who are child soldiers?

While there is no precise definition, the Coalition considers a child soldier any person below the age of 18 who is a member of or attached to government armed forces or any other regular or irregular armed force or armed political group, whether or not an armed conflict exists. Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including: participation in combat; laying mines and explosives; scouting, spying, acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training, drill or other preparations; logistics and support functions, portering, cooking and domestic labour. Child soldiers may also be subjected to sexual slavery or other forms of sexual abuse.

A similar definition is provided in the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups. It states "A child associated with an armed force or armed group" refers to any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.


Voices of child soldiers: Recruitment Practices

"They filled the forms and asked my age, and when I said 16, I was slapped and he said, "You are 18. Answer 18" ,he asked me again and I said, "But that's my true age". The sergeant asked, "Then why did you enlist in the army?" I said, "Against my will. I was captured."He said, "Okay, keep your mouth shut then,"and he filled in the form. I just wanted to go back home and I told them, but they refused. I said, "Then please just let me make one phone call, but they refused that too."

Maung Zaw Oo, describing the second time he was forced into the Tatmadaw Kyi (army) in 2005 (Myanmar/Burma). "Child soldiers are ideal because they don't complain, they don't expect to be paid, and if you tell them to kill, they kill."

Senior officer in the Chadian National Army (ANT).
"When the armed groups have got recruited children and youth, they then would supah or take an oath. After that, they cannot withdraw. Otherwise, other members would kill them called "blood halal"or killing without guilt, because this is an act of betrayal to religion by "munafi'."

A religious leader from Pattani interviewed by the Coalition in 2007 describing the recruitment of children
and youth by armed separatist groups (Southern Thailand).
"We saw our children on the top floor of [Karuna's political party] office. We were three mothers of children taken from here. The children signalled to us that we should go or they would get hit."

Mother of a child abducted by the Karuna Group, October 2006 (Sri Lanka).
"Even if there are orders [to demobilize children], battalion commanders will keep the children but hide them in the battalion compound or battalion farms, but they'll keep them because they don't have enough soldiers. When I was in the army we always felt we had too many officers and not enough soldiers."

Training and Treatment

"During training, there were three trainers and six recruited children. They were trained privately in other villages. I acted as a basic trainer, teaching how to scatter spikes and plant bombs. Later, when individuals actually had to plant bombs, one person would dig a hole and then others would plant the bombs. My duty was to train recruited children. They were selected before I trained. I did not know other details."

A former member of the armed separatist group, National Revolution Front-Coordinate (BRN-C) (Southern Thailand).
"In the mornings we had to do long and short runs with backpacks. We had to run five miles a week, and do long marches of about 30 miles. I was 11, so I couldn't keep up but had to do my best, otherwise they whipped me with the strings attached to their whistles - When we had to run and I couldn't carry my gun anymore, the older ones tried to help by taking my gun and running along with me."

Htun Myint, describing his training in the Tatmadaw Kyi at age 11 (Myanmar/Burma).
"They [the army] took us to the barracks. They beat us both with their guns and boots. After 15 days my friend died from the beatings. They beat me repeatedly. Once I was beaten unconscious and taken to the hospital. When I regained consciousness I was taken back to the barracks and beaten again. I nearly died. I don't know why they beat me."

Ram, recruited in 2004 by the Maoists when he was 14 years old describes his capture by the Royal Nepal Army one year late (Nepal).

"Sometimes in the bush, the rebels would beat us without mercy whether you made a mistake or not. We would also be made to carry heavy loads on our heads for long distances and made to assemble out in the cold each day as early as 5am."

Girls and DDR

"I am now 14. I was with the LURD for two years in 2003 and 2004.
I had to tow ammunition and arms for them. They beat me. They did not feed me. I never heard about it and then it was over. I didn't participate in DD [sic] because I did not know if this was an option was for me."

Esther, former member of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) (Liberia).
"I was captured by one of the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) commanders and after 2 years with his wife, I managed to cross into Liberia, losing contact with my commander. I later returned with the intention of disarming with him, but when disarmament started, my commander refused to disarm with me because I failed to marry him. He gave my gun to another girl who agreed to marry him."

17 year old girl (Sierra Leone).
"I heard about disarmament from my friends. I couldn't disarm though because I didn't have any ammunition. I have friends that were able to disarm."

The long-term impact

Annie, aged 13 who was with government troops for eight months washing clothes, cooking and carrying rice (Liberia).
"I feel pain from the rape, as if I have wounds inside, and I am afraid to have a disease. I would like to get tested but there is nobody to help me. I was tested in the reception centre in Gulu, but I was never told the result. The doctor said that it is better not to know the result."

Girl age 17, previously abducted by the LRA (Uganda).
"I was living in Foya when government troops entered. I stayed with them from 1999-2003. I was captured with other small girls. There were eight of us altogether. We were all used by this one commander who would rape all of the eight girls. Now I have stomach problems. I am told that I have an infection but when I take medicine I don't really feel better. I was in my village seeking traditional medicine when the DDR was going on so I missed out. I am still not all right fully."

Faith, now 18, was 13 when captured by government troops (Liberia).
"There is a big difference to the time before I was abducted, especially regarding my health. I used to be able to work hard in the garden but now I'm no longer strong and work looks so heavy for me. I can't perform better yet I have to work hard to earn a living. I really feel weak and sickly, especially in my back and chest."

Male age 18, previously abducted by the LRA (Uganda).
"Other children insult me and when I try to fight them they run to the teacher's office. The teacher says "If your head is confused because you were abducted, don't come and disturb others.Then the teacher beat me up. I went back with my parents and now it' s a bit better."

Source: Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, May 2008


External links
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers CHILD SOLDIERS GLOBAL REPORT

Coalition aganst Child Soldiers
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