CHILDREN USED AS SOLDIERS:
The ultimate exploitation
||"We want a society where people are more important than things, where children are precious; a world where
people can be more human, caring and gentle." Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking at the Eminent Persons
Group meeting for the United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, Tarrytown,
New York, 1995-MAY-9
There is a global trend towards the exploitation of children in military conflicts. They are
easily kidnapped, require little food, are often considered expendable, are able to carry
and aim the newer lightweight rifles, are strong enough to pull the trigger, and heavy
enough to clear mine fields with their own bodies. "Child soldiers are 'more
obedient, do not question orders and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers.'
Combating this trend is a movement of concerned individuals and non-government
organizations (NGOs) who are promoting a ban on the use of soldiers under the age of 18.
The U.S. Pentagon and executive branch of the government initially opposed such a ban.
However they reached a compromise before the United Nations protocol was finally
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires countries to:
||"take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the
age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities."
||not recruit anyone under the age of 15 into their armed forces, even as non-combatants.
The Convention is the "first, nearly universally ratified human rights treaty
in history." 3 It has been signed and
ratified by 191 out of the world's 193 nations. The two holdouts are:
||Somalia, which does not have an internationally recognized national government. Thus it has not
been able to either sign or ratify any convention, and
||The United States, which has signed but has not ratified the convention. Treaties in the
US go through a long process of review before being ratified. "...The 'Convention
on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide' took more than 30 years to be
ratified...and the 'Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women,' which was signed by the United States 17 years ago, still has not been ratified."
In 1994, a working group at the United Nations was formed to prepare a optional
protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would raise the
minimum age for armed forces recruitment and participation in hostilities from 15 to 18
years. Although most countries would accept such a change, Bangladesh, Cuba, Israel,
Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States resisted it. The U.S. has a long standing
policy of allowing 17 year olds to enter the military if they have the permission of a
parent. However, they are not assigned to active combat. "Since the U.N. Working
Group takes decisions only by consensus, all participating nations must be in unanimous
agreement on the wording of the draft protocol. The United States alone has said that it
would refuse to accept a consensus stipulating 18 years as the minimum age for
Many NGOs support 18 as the minimum age for entry into the armed forces.
These include: Amnesty
International, Friends Committee for World Consultation, Human Rights Watch, International
Catholic Children's Bureau, International Save the Children Alliance, the World Council of
Scope of the problem:
According to a letter sent to President Clinton in 1997 by 36 senior retired U.S. Army, Navy
and Air Force officers, and one Canadian Armed forces officer: 6
||"As many as 250,000 children, some as young as 8, have been recruited, often by
force, into government armies or armed rebel groups in over 30 countries." More
recent estimates quote 300,000 or more child soldiers.
||Over 2,000,000 children have been killed in armed conflicts during the previous decade
||Over 6,000,000 children have been seriously injured or permanently disabled - many by
abandoned anti-personnel mines.
Graça Machel, the U.N. Secretary-General's Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on
Children reported. 8
"In Liberia, children as young as seven have been found in combat, while in
Cambodia, a survey of wounded soldiers found that 20 per cent of them were between the
ages of 10 and 14 when recruited. In Sri Lanka, of 180 Tamil Tiger guerrillas killed in
one government attack, more than half were still in their teens, and 128 were girls. Solid
statistics are hard to come by, however, as most armies and militia do not want to admit
to their use of child soldiers."
Elsewhere Machel wrote: 9
"In Afghanistan, where approximately 90 per cent of children now have no
access to schooling, the proportion of soldiers who are children is thought to have risen
in recent years from roughly 30 to at least 45%."
"Children are very impressionable and may even be lured into cults of
martyrdom. In Lebanon and Sri Lanka, for example, some adults have used young people's
immaturity to their own advantage, recruiting and training adolescents for suicide
"In many countries, including Afghanistan, Mozambique, Colombia and Nicaragua,
children have even been forced to commit atrocities against their own families or
||1998: By 1998-JAN-20, 63 members of Congress (57 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 1 "L") had
signed a letter to President Clinton. They asked that he advise the U.S. delegation to the
U.N. working group that they cease their opposition to a ban on child soldiers.
On JUN-30, a coalition of NGO's called "Coalition to Stop the Use of Child
Soldiers" launched a campaign. Chairperson Jo Becker stated that 44 countries
recruit children under the age of 18 into their armed forces.
Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) introduced a Congressional resolution, calling on the
U.S. to not block efforts to establish 18 as a minimum age for engaging in armed conflict.
It was passed in 1998-OCT.
On DEC-21, the leaders of 40 human rights, religious, peace, humanitarian, child
welfare, veterans and professional organizations wrote an open letter to President Clinton
asking him "to support an international prohibition on the use of child soldiers."
1 Included were leaders of the American Academy of
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, National
Council of Churches, National Education Association, TransAfrica, US Committee for UNICEF,
and Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. The letter states, in part:
"Robbed of their childhood, child combatants are subjected to a cycle of
violence that they are often too young to understand, or resist. While many of these young
recruits may start out as porters or messengers, too often they end up on the front lines
of combat. Some are used for particularly hazardous duty, such as entering mine fields
ahead of older troops, or undertaking suicide missions. Some have been forced to commit
atrocities against family members or relatives. Inexperienced and immature, these children
suffer far higher casualty rates than their adult counterparts. Those who survive are
often physically or psychologically scarred. Typically lacking an education or civilian
job skills, their futures are often bleak."
||1999: After 5 years of negotiations, governments had
reached agreement on a limited treaty. Rather than an outright banning of child soldiers, it
only prevents the "forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed
conflicts." Jo Becker, Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights
Watch, commented: "This narrow provision fails to protect thousands of child
soldiers who are lured or coerced into warfare." 12
U.S. opposed a wider ban, because it wanted to continue its practice of allowing 17 year
olds to volunteer for military service. Minors represent about 4% of the new recruits each
year and fewer than 0.5% of the total active duty force.
||2000-JAN: After six years of negotiations, on JAN-22, governments
finally reached a full treaty
to ban the use of child combatants. 18 will be the minimum age for
participation in any armed conflict. Jo Becker, Children's Rights
Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch said: "This
treaty could really make a difference to hundreds of thousands of
children around the world," said "For the first time,
governments have agreed that the use of children in war is simply
The accord is an optional protocol, which forms part of the
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This enables the
United States to sign the accord without ratifying the convention
itself. The U.S. is the only national government on earth that has
refused to sign the convention.
The compromise reached implies that:
||The U.S. will be able to continue recruitment of 17 year olds.
||The U.S. will "take all feasible measures" to
ensure that soldiers under the age of 18 do not participate in
||18 is "the minimum age for direct participation in
hostilities, for compulsory recruitment, and for any recruitment
or use in hostilities by non-governmental armed groups.
However, it allows government forces to accept voluntary recruits
from the age of sixteen, subject to certain safeguards including
parental permission and proof of age." 13
This accord is the first time that the United States has promised to
change its practices in order to meet a human rights standard. In most
cases, the U.S. already exceeded the requirements of human rights
standards when treaties were finalized. In other cases, (e.g. the land
mine treaty and the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights), the U.S. has either refused to ratify the treaty or has
obtained reservations which exempted the U.S. from certain clauses.
||2000-MAY: The United Nations adopted the protocol.
||2000-JUN: The United Nations opened the protocol for
signatures and ratification by countries.
||2000-JUL-5: The Clinton administration signed the
international protocol. It was the eighth country to do so. However,
the protocol must be ratified by the U.S. Senate to be effective. This
will probably take decades.
"Leaders Call on President Clinton to Support International Ban on Child
Soldiers," Human Rights Watch news release, 1988-DEC-21
"Stop the Use of Child Soldiers," Human Rights Watch at: http://www.hrw.org/hrw/campaigns/crp/index.htm
"Convention on the rights of the child," at: http://www.unicef.org/crc/status.htm
"Convention on the rights of the child, FAQ" at: http://www.unicefusa.org/infoactiv/rights.html
"Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on
Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts,"at: http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/crcop.htm
Letter to President Clinton, 1997-DEC at: http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/mil2.htm
Letter to President Clinton, 1998-JAN-20 at: http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/congsig3.htm
Graça Machel, "Impact of Armed Conflict on Children," (report
review) at: http://www.unicef.org/graca/
Graça Machel, "Impact of Armed Conflict on Children," (report text)
Thalif Deen, "Conflict: NGOs Launch Global Campaign to Ban Child
Soldiers," Inter Press Service news report for 1998-JUN-30 at: http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/june98/22_29_096.html
"U.S. Blocks Efforts to Ban the Use of Child Soldiers; Clinton Urged to
Back Stronger Measures in Geneva," Human Rights Watch, news release,
"New treaty bans children in combat," Human Rights Watch, news
"Clinton hailed for signing ban on child combatants,"
Human Rights Watch, news release, 2000-JUL-5.
Copyright © 1999, 2000 & 2004 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolernace
Latest update: 2004-JUL-28
Author: B.A. Robinson