Child Soldiers

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.

The Convention 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 Armed  Conflict.

Melanie Gow
Board of Governors
Anti-Slavery Society

World Vision International, Switzerland

Melanie Gow has undertaken extensive work on the issue of child soldiers while working with World Vision International in Switzerland.

2002 by Melanie Gow. All Rights Reserved.  Anyone may reproduce this text  provided that the source is acknowledged.

Links to other pages dealing with this issue:

Child soldiers portal

Adoption of protocol on child soldiers

Protocol on child soldiers

Links to other conventions dealing with this issue:

Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention 1999

Internet links:

Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict



The Society is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. 






  2003 by the Anti-Slavery Society. The text on any page may be reproduced provided that the source is acknowledged.  This does not apply to photos.