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News About Child Soldiers

UN Official Calls For New Protection for Child Soldiers (July 2001)
Olara Otunnu, the United Nations (UN) Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has called for the creation of a new, independent body to help stop the use of child soldiers. Although there are several international treaties on child soldiers, enforcement mechanisms and actions are lacking. Otunnu called for an organization to investigate and report on the use of children in armed conflict. This information would be used to bring political pressure on groups and armies using child soldiers. This organization, he stated, should not be related to the UN or any existing governmental or nongovernmental (NGO) group.

Global Report on Child Soldiers (June 2001)
The international Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has released the "Global Report on Child Soldiers 2001." This is the first comprehensive report to document the recruitment and use of child soldiers around the world. The report contains information on child soldiers in 178 countries, as well as background information, statistics, and legal documents.

Middle East Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers (April 2001)
The Middle East conference on the use of children as soldiers took place in Amman, Jordan, from April 8-10. There were over 100 participants, including representatives from 18 countries. The conference issued the "Amman Declaration on the Use of Children As Soldiers," probably the strongest statement from any of the regional conferences organized by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The Amman Declaration condemns all military recruitment of children under 18 and calls for its criminalization in national law. It also makes specific reference to the trade in small arms and the responsibility of corporations in the involvement of children in armed conflict. There was particular concern expressed about the Occupied Territories and the recruitment of minors in the Israeli Defense Force.

Optional Protocol Continues to Get Signatures (March 2001)
As of mid-March, there are 78 signatories to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Only three countries have ratified it (Canada, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka); ten are necessary to bring it into force.

Countries Work to Stop the Use of Children as Soldiers (March 2001)
Recently, several countries and armed groups have taken steps to stop the use of children as soldiers. The East Timorese National Council adopted military legislation setting 18 as the minimum age for military recruitment. The Israeli Defense Force announced that it will end the deployment of children under age 18 and will stop accepting conscripts before their 18th birthdays (but will continue to recruit 17 year-old volunteers). The Italian Parliament passed legislation raising the minimum age for voluntary recruitment to 18. On the Thai-Burma border, armed groups of the Shan ethnic minority pledged to stop the recruitment of children under 18.

Demobilizing Child Soldiers in Sudan (February 2001)
UNICEF assisted in demobilizing and airlifting more than 2600 child soldiers ages 8 to 18 out of conflict zones in southern Sudan. The children have begun the process of rehabilitation (medical care, counseling, education, and training) and tracing their families. This action was done in cooperation with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which pledged in October to demobilize children under age 18 and instructed field commanders to do so. The SPLA -- the main rebel movement in southern Sudan – committed itself to stopping the recruitment of child soldiers. An estimated 9000 child soldiers still serve in various armed groups in Sudan.

Child Soldiers at Risk in the United Kingdom (November 2000)
Amnesty International released a report entitled, "United Kingdom: U-18s: Child Soldiers at Risk," stating that the UK "is the only country in Europe which routinely sends children under the age of 18 into armed conflict." Soldiers under age 18 were deployed during the war in Kosovo (1999), the Gulf War (1991), and the Falklands War (1982). At least 13 UK soldiers under age 18 have been killed in war or training and hundreds others have been injured, assaulted, or ill-treated. Similar to the United States, the UK in recent years has had trouble recruiting and retaining personnel and so has targeted younger children. In the late 1990s, there was a sharp increase in the number of those under age 18 who joined the military, in one year accounting for approximately one-third of all inductions into the armed forces. The report also criticizes the UK for undermining world efforts to stop the use of child soldiers. In September, the UK made a "declaration" on its signature of the Optional Protocol that effectively means the UK will continue to deploy recruits under age 18 in operations.

International Conference on War-Affected Children (September 2000)
The Canadian government hosted this conference in Winnipeg, Canada, in September 2000. It included a youth conference (with 25 youth from war-affected countries and 25 Canadian youth), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) day (with more than 70 NGOs), an experts’ meeting (with more than 400 government, UN, academic, NGO, and youth delegates), and a ministerial meeting (with more than 100 countries represented). The experts’ meeting recommended target goals for Optional Protocol (OP) ratification, created a "watch list" of countries recruiting and using child soldiers to be reported on to the UN, and recommended setting signature, ratification and implementation of the OP as a condition for defense cooperation, assistance, joint exercises, and arms sales. In addition to child soldiers, participants discussed landmines, the International Criminal Court, refugees, and small arms.

UN Security Council Again Condemns Using Children as Soldiers (August 2000)
In Resolution 1314 (2000), the UN Security Council again condemned the targeting of children in war. The resolution expresses a wide variety of concerns about the impact of war on children, including how small arms and light weapons intensify the war’s impact on children and the special needs and vulnerabilities of girls. It recommends signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and demobilizing and reintegrating child soldiers. It also calls on States, the UN, and civil society to encourage the participation of young people in peace-building efforts.

Use of Child Soldiers in Sri Lanka (July 2000)
UNICEF reports that Sri Lankan children have been forcibly recruited at an escalating rate by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam since a new offensive launched in April. The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for 17 years for a homeland for Sri Lanka’s 3.2 million Tamils. A Tamil human rights group, the University Teachers for Human Rights, stated that the Tamil Tigers have begun a strong child recruitment campaign, despite their pledge to the UN that they would not recruit anyone under age 17. The group reported that boys and girls as young as 10 are being forcibly recruited.

President Clinton Signs the Optional Protocol (July 2000)
On July 5th, the United States became the 8th country to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The Senate has to ratify the Protocol for it to become US law. Canada, San Marino, Sweden, Norway, Argentina, Monaco, and Cambodia have also signed. Many more countries are expected to do so in September.

UN General Assembly Adopts Child Soldiers Optional Protocol (May 2000)
On May 25, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Individual governments have the option of whether and when to sign and ratify this optional protocol. Upon ratification, each state must make a binding declaration regarding the minimum age at which its governmental armed forces will accept recruits who volunteer. It is the hope of UNICEF and other organizations that states will quickly ratify the agreement and commit to a minimum age of 18 for recruits.

  • Read a UNICEF press release on the adoption.
  • Read a press release from the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (Olara A. Otunnu)

Asian Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers (May 2000)
The Asia-Pacific conference on the use of children as soldiers took place in Kathmandu, Nepal from May 15-18. Representatives from 24 countries and over 100 NGO delegates participated. A report issued by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers stated that Asia ranks closely behind Africa in the number of children used in conflicts. The Coalition estimates that at least 75,000 children under 18 are engaged in conflicts across the region, from Afghanistan to the southern Philippines. The use of children as soldiers is especially prevalent in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. In the Kathmandu Declaration, delegates from 24 countries called on governments and armed groups to stop using children as weapons of war.

Use of Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone (May 2000) Thousands of children were used as soldiers in Sierra Leone’s civil war. Since July 1999, over 1700 children have been demobilized. However, the ongoing crisis continues to have a huge impact on children. While leaders of the Sierra Leone Army, the paramilitary Civil Defense Force, and the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) have agreed not to use child soldiers, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has not yet done so. In early May, the head of UNICEF in Sierra Leone, Joanna Van Gerpen, said that RUF commanders had remobilized at least 40 children. She said, "The very high level of instability could lead us back into the vicious cycle where children are used as tools of war. This war is the business of adults – children shouldn’t be forced to pay the price." In late May, the RUF freed some 300 abducted children ages 7 to 18. The number of children still in armed forces remains unknown. For more information:

New UN Agreement Expands Protection for Child Soldiers (January 2000)
After six years of negotiations, governments agreed to further protections for child soldiers but failed to establish 18 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into governmental armed forces. Again, this concession resulted under pressure from the US and other governments who enlist persons under age 18. Significantly, however, this agreement marks the first time that the US has agreed to try to end the deployment of under-18's in combat, another factor that had been holding up the agreement. Among the agreement’s provisions:

  • Governments must take "all feasible measures" to ensure that under-18s do not directly participate in armed combat.
  • Governments shall ensure that persons under 18 are not compulsarily recruited into armed forces.
  • Governments, upon signing, must make a binding statement declaring their age of voluntary recruitment, which must be above 15.
  • A ban on the recruitment or participation in combat of anyone under 18 in non-governmental armed groups.

The agreement takes the form of an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The agreement will be open for signature and ratification after adoption by this year's UN General Assembly.

African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child Comes into Force (November 1999)
More than 15 African countries have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, bringing it into force. This Charter is the first major regional treaty to specify that governmental parties must ensure that no one under the age of 18 is recruited into armed forces or takes part in armed conflict. It is estimated that 120,000 children under 18 years of age are participating in armed conflicts in Africa, some as young as 7 and 8 years of age. The Organization of African Unity adopted the Charter in 1990. Those governments which have ratified the African Children's Charter are Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

US Ratifies ILO Treaty on Child Labor (November 1999)
On November 5, 1999, the US Senate ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) treaty (No. 182) intended to protect children from the worst forms of child labor. The Senate approved the treaty by voice vote. President Clinton had urged the United States to set an example by being among the first countries to ratify the treaty, which was unanimously approved in June at ILO meetings. It includes a ban on the forced recruitment of children for the military. Attempts by trade unions and many governments to include a broad prohibition of all forms of child soldiering were blocked by the United States during June negotiations.
For more information:
For the text of the Convention and the countries which have ratified:

International Red Cross Survey on Minimum Age for Soldiering (October 1999)
The International Red Cross has collaborated on a project entitled "People on War" as part of their Campaign on International Humanitarian Law, on the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. As part of this project, surveys regarding war were conducted in various countries. One of the questions asked respondents, "At what age are young people mature enough to be combatants?"
Here are the responses:
Under 15: 1 %
15-17: 6 %
18-21: 53 %
Over 21: 35 %
Despite the US government’s unwillingness to allow international agreements which specify age 18 as a minimum for military recruitment and participation, 53 % of the US respondents said that young people are not mature enough to be combatants until they are over 21 years of age.
For more information, visit the reports section of the Results section of the project:

European Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers (October 1999)
The European Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers took place in Berlin, Germany, from October 18-20. Governmental representatives made up the majority of the 180 participants who came from 35 European countries. The conference was expected to be difficult, since apart from the United States, most of the countries with problematic recruitment practices are located in Europe. Thus, the resulting conference statement is not as strong as those of the Latin American and African Conferences. Conferees issued a statement calling on their governments to "ensure that no person under 18 years, within their armed forces, participates in armed conflict." The group issued a weaker statement regarding the enlistment or induction of young people. Those states currently recruiting minors were merely encouraged to consider raising their recruitment age to 18.

Nordic States Issue Declaration Against Child Soldiers (August 1999)
On August 29, 1999 the foreign ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden signed a declaration calling for an international ban on the recruitment and use of children under age 18 in military groups and urging other states and organizations to help stop the use of child soldiers. The declaration states that children have no place in war and should not be soldiers.

UN Security Council Condemns the Use of Children in Armed Conflict (August 1999)
On August 25, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution condemning the use of children in armed conflict. The resolution stated that governments should prosecute those who recruit children and should do more to protect children in war zones. The council urged member states to work with the UN on disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of child soldiers. It also asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to submit a report on progress toward these end by July 31, 2000. The US continued to oppose Olara Ottunu's appeal to raise the minimum age for soldiers to 18, saying it wanted to retain the ability to recruit from high schools.

Latin American and Caribbean Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers (July 1999)
The Latin American and Caribbean Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers took place in Montevideo, Uruguay, from July 5-8. About 100 people from about 20 countries participated. The group issued a strong declaration calling for a prohibition on the recruitment or participation in conflict of children under age 18, with specific recommendations to governments, the UN, the media, NGOs, the Organization of American States, and others. Also presented was a "World Leaders' Statement on the Use of Child Soldiers," signed by 16 former heads of state or governments from around the world. After expressing their concern about the failures of the international community in preventing this "reprehensible" practice, they recommended an international agreement prohibiting "the military recruitment or participation in armed conflict of any child under the age of eighteen."

Teaching War Tactics to Children in Kosovo (June 1999)
Children in Kosovo have been taught military tactics, both offensive and defensive, for decades. This realization came in late June when British soldiers in Kosovo stumbled upon Serbian classrooms filled with ammunition, chemicals, and instructions for weapon-building and use. These were used in compulsory classes to teach both Albanian and Serbian schoolchildren as young as 12 about defense and weaponry. One textbook explained why, in Josip Broz Tito's words: "We must never forget the fact that youth will bear the biggest burden of war: It means we have to prepare the young so that they can successfully assume these most complex military duties." Children as young as 10 participated in militias in the war in Bosnia and Croatia in the early and mid-1990s. In the 1999 war, there was no evidence of systematic recruitment of children, but journalists and others reported that some children did participate in the fighting.

ILO Convention Fails to Condemn All Use of Child Soldiers (June 1999)
On June 17th, the International Labor Organization, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, passed the Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. Slavery, child prostitution, child drug trafficking, and forced labor are considered especially exploitative and hazardous. Many trade unions and governments also encouraged including child soldiering in the convention. Despite the support for this position, strong US pressure (along with a few other governments) resulted in much weaker language in the convention itself. A convention which condemned all use of child soldiers (including recruitment and participation in armed conflict) would have been in direct conflict with U.S. recruitment strategy and enlistment policy. Thus, the convention bans only the "forced or compulsory recruitment" of children for use in armed conflict.
For more information: read the recommendations and reports at

Colombian Government and Armed Opposition Group Agree Not to Use Child Soldiers (June 1999)
After a week-long visit to Colombia by Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have agreed to steps to end the use of child soldiers. The Colombian President, Andres Pastrana Arango, agreed to initiate legislation to raise the age of military enlistment from 15 to 18. The FARC, the main armed opposition group in Colombia, pledged to stop recruiting children under age 15 and, with the help of the UN, to look at procedures for demobilizing child soldiers already in its ranks. Tens of thousands of children, most between the ages of 15 and 18, are used as soldiers on all sides of the Colombian armed conflict. Up to 30 percent of some guerrilla units are composed of children, some as young as 8 years old.

Countries Move to Strengthen Domestic Policies (May 1999)
The International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reports the following developments: – A resolution is before the Bundestag in Germany to raise the recruitment age from 17 to 18. – Norway will soon present draft legislation before Parliament to raise its recruitment age from 17 to 18 years. – South Africa no longer has any under-18s in its armed forces and will pass legislation to this effect later this year. – Burundi is considering raising its minimum age for recruitment from 16 to 18 years. – Canada is expected to make a declaration soon on raising the minimum age for recruitment from 16 years to 18 years.

Hague Appeal for Peace: Declaration on the Use of Children in Armed Forces and Armed Groups (May 1999)
The Hague Appeal for Peace in the Netherlands held a workshop on Stopping the Use of Children as Soldiers on 12 May 1999. The participants issued a statement on child soldiers declaring a commitment to ending the use of children as soldiers. It asserts that the use of any child under 18 by any armed group is wholly unacceptable. Among its suggestions are that governments foster safe and healthy child development, that governments and armed opposition groups stop using child soldiers and demobilize those already in the ranks, that governments pressure other entities not complying with these recommendations, that governments support 18 as the minimum age for soldiering, and that governments provide resources, through the UN and other bodies, to ensure the implementation of the other suggestions.
Copies of the Statement are available from the National Youth and Militarism Program. youthmil@afsc.org
To order the workshop on audiotape:

African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers (April 1999)
In April, the Mozambican government hosted the "African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers." It was attended by over 250 participants from more than 50 countries. A report released at this conference stated that over 120,000 children under the age of 18 currently participate in armed conflicts around Africa. In response to concerns about these children, the "Maputo Declaration on the Use of Children as Soldiers" is unequivocal in its condemnation of the use of children under 18 as soldiers in any armed conflict. It emphasizes the need for legal standards and measures at every level to prohibit any military service by children. Additionally, as a result of this conference, Africa will likely be the first region of the world to pass a resolution prohibiting the use of soldiers under the age of 18, through the Organization of African Unity's (OAU) Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Prior to the conference, it had been ratified by thirteen of the fifteen countries necessary for it to come into force. At the Maputo conference, ten more committed to ratify.

Amnesty International cites child atrocities, seeks minimum age for soldiers (January 1999) CNN story tells of children's brutal initiations into the world of soldiering and how the United States is opposing efforts to stop the use of child soldiers.

United Nations Fails to Negotiate an International Agreement to Protect Potential Child Soldiers (January 1999)
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989) is the most widely and quickly ratified UN treaty ever. Only two countries have yet to ratify: the United States and Somalia (which lacks a stable government). The CRC prohibits the use of children under the age of 15 as soldiers. However, the standard age for the beginning of adulthood, as recognized in the rest of the Convention and by most governments, is 18.

Since 1994, yearly negotiations have been occurring to add an Optional Protocol to the CRC, which governments could sign when they could comply with its terms. Most parties agree that 18 should be the age specified in this protocol as the minimum for all forms of soldiering. However, the US is strongly opposed to this position and has been blocking consensus on this process, along with a few allies. In January 1999, the working group of the UN Human Rights Commission adjourned after only one day in session with no progress made. They will meet again next year.

International Coalition to Stop Child Soldiering Launched (June 1998)
In June of 1998, the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers was launched. The US Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers is an affiliate of this international campaign. Two articles outline the goals of these campaigns.

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