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child soldiers


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- child soldiers

The MOD recognises the goal is ' to achieve the maximum awareness of the Armed Forces amongst all elements of the nation's youth and their gatekeepers...' The combined Cadet Forces sponsored and funded by the MoD involve around 130,000 young people aged between 12 and 22.
'Although Cadet organisations are not run principally as recruiting tools, in 1999-2000 18% of naval service and other ranks intake, 13% of the Army other ranks intake and 17% of the RAF intake had been members of the cadet forces. Again these figure mask the importance of the cadet forces as recruiting grounds for future 'front line' personnel - in the RAF, for example, over 40% of officers recruits regularly come from amongst young people who have been in the Combined cadet Force.'
Select Committee on Defence February 2001


More than 300,000 children below 18 years of age are fighting as soldiers in 41 armed conflicts today according to the the Global Report on Child Soldiers 2001. Hundreds of thousands more have been recruited into various military forces and groups. Moreover, millions of children receive military training and indoctrination in youth movements and schools around the world.

While most child soldiers are between 15 and 18 years of age, there have been cases of children as young as seven or eight being recruited. The smallest children are often used as porters, messengers, servants and mine sweepers. As soon as children are strong enough to handle an assault rifle or semi-automatic weapon – normally around 10 years of age – they may be used in frontline roles.
Many children are recruited by force, while others are driven into armed forces or groups by their need for food and protection, or by their need for revenge for discrimination or abuse suffered by their communities or families. Children are also deliberately targeted by recruiters who find them cheap, expendable and easier to mold into fearless killing and unthinking obedience. The wide-spread availability of modern lightweight weapons has also contributed greatly to the child soldier problem, enabling even the smallest children to become efficient killers.

Child soldiers lose their childhood and opportunities for education and normal social development. They risk physical injury, psychological trauma and death. They are often treated brutally and punishments for mistakes or disobedience are severe. Often drugs and alcohol are used to desensitise children for violence, leading to problems with abuse. In many countries, child soldiers who are captured, escape or surrender face ill-treatment, torture and even death.

In many conflicts, girls too are used in military roles, although in much smaller numbers than boys. One exception is in Sri Lanka where the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) have systematically recruited young Tamil girls since the mid-1980s and a high percentage of the force is believed to be female fighters. Of 140 LTTE cadres killed in a battle in October 1999, for example, 49 were children of which 32 were girls between 11 and 15 years of age.

Girl soldiers are at particular risk of rape, sexual slavery and abuse – and consequently diseases such as HIV/aids as well as unwanted pregnancies and dangerous abortions or deliveries under insanitary conditions. On top of the physical and mental suffering caused by the abuse itself, girls are often socially stigmatized and find it particularly hard to return and integrate into their communities after demobilisation.

According to the report, the psychological impact of war on children “is only beginning to be understood.” It quotes a 14-year-old girl abducted by the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone in January 1999 saying: “I’ve seen people get their hands cut off, a ten-year-old girl raped and then die, and so many men and women burned alive . . . So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn’t dare cry out loud.” A boy abducted by the LRA in Uganda at 12 years of age says: “I killed another child. I did this three times. I felt bad but I knew what would happen if I disobeyed. Now I see dead people and blood in my dreams and I know the spirits of the children are coming to haunt me.”

As the Global Report points out, however, “there is growing experience today in many parts of the world with the physical and psycho-social rehabilitation of child soldiers and their successful reintegration into society, some of which is documented in this report. Often these programs combine the latest developments in psychology and child development with traditional custom and ritual. The adjustment from highly militarised environments to civilian life can be extremely difficult, particularly for those who have lost or are rejected by their families or in societies where social infrastructure has been shattered by years of war. Special attention needs to be paid in such programs to the experience and needs of girls, who have often been overlooked in assistance programs and disadvantaged by traditional patriarchal social values.”

Looking at the world map of child soldiering, in recent years the overall situation has improved in Latin America, the Balkans, and the Middle East, while new generations of children are at risk in Africa and parts of Asia and the Pacific.

The report estimates that in Africa alone some 120,000 children are fighting in conflicts. However the report points out that the child soldier problem is not confined to armed conflicts in the ‘developing’ world. Some of the most industrialized countries of Europe and North America continue to accept or even actively seek to recruit volunteers at the age of 16 or 17. Both the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, routinely send 17-year-olds into conflict – for example in the Balkans region and the Gulf War. Numerous cases of bullying and humiliation of young recruits, as well as the death of several underage recruits while on duty, in training, or in combat have also been reported in the armed forces of the UK.


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