There are more than 300,000 children currently taking part
in approximately 36 armed conflicts around the globe.
These children, known as the world's child soldiers,
are, according to the Graca Machel report on the Impact
of Armed Conflict on Children, defined as any person
under 18 who is part of any kind of regular or irregular
armed force or armed group in any capacity, including
but not limited to, cooks, porters, messengers, fighters
and also girls recruited for sexual purposes and forced
marriage. While many of these children are
lawfully recruited, others are kidnapped or coerced into
service. Child soldiers are often used for the
most treacherous tasks as they are regarded as being
expendable and replaceable.
Child soldiers have recently been used by irregular armed
forces in West Africa Angola, Sudan and the Horn of
Africa (mainly Somalia). Reports also indicate that
children have been used within in East Timor, Sri Lanka,
Myanmar and Afghanistan.
Both governments and non-state actors around the world have
used children to fuel their armies.
These realities have
compelled concerned governments, child rights groups and
children themselves to demand a change in this ongoing
reality. Whilst current international law allows
children of 15 to lawfully take part in armed
hostilities, there is a general and growing acceptance
that this is far too young.
contains three provisions dealing with the use of minors
in armed conflict and, for the first time in
international law, challenges the use of those below 18
years in armed hostilities.
First, the Convention explicitly defines the forced or
compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed
conflict as one of the worst forms of child labor.
(footnote) In practical terms, minors cannot, under
international law, be conscripted into the armed forces.
This is a step forward in the protection of children
under international law. Unfortunately, the provision is
limited because it seeks to protect only those children
who are forcibly recruited into armed forces and does
not extend protection to all those below 18 who are
drawn into active participation within armed conflict
regardless of the manner in which they were recruited.
Secondly, the use of children for unlawful carrying or use
of firearms or other weapons is defined by the
Convention as another worst form of child labor. This is
largely aimed at the use of child soldiers by irregular
forces and gunrunners and also acknowledges that
children have been used to do many tasks during
conflict, not only to fight.
Finally, since the use
children in armed conflict is likely to adversely affect
their safety, this is also defined as one of the worst
forms of child labor.
In addition, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the
Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in
Board of Governors
Vision International, Switzerland
Gow has undertaken extensive work on the issue of child
soldiers while working with World Vision International
by Melanie Gow. All Rights Reserved. Anyone may
reproduce this text provided that the source is
to other pages dealing with this issue:
of protocol on child soldiers
on child soldiers
to other conventions dealing with this issue:
Forms of Child Labor Convention 1999
of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General
for Children and Armed Conflict
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