Children still forced to be soldiers in Africa and globally

Children are fighting in wars worldwide, some as combatants in national armies. Despite a law meant to prevent U.S. taxpayer money from supporting armies that use child soldiers, the United States still provides military assistance to five violating countries.

Story by Kathryn Reid. Photo by Jon Warren.
Published March 30, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

A United Nations specialist says Joseph Kony, head of a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, should be arrested and sent to the International Criminal Court. 

“But how we get him is crucial to us, because a lot of Kony’s fighters are children,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict.

Reintegrating child soldiers a lengthy process

Coomaraswamy is wary of “vigilantism and military action” that could endanger children in conflict areas.

Once children are safely extracted from combat situations, she says that a minimum of two years is required for former child combatants to be successfully reintegrated with their families and communities. Intensive psycho-social counseling, education, and livelihood training are essential to preparing these children to start new lives.

The danger and disruption also extends to most children growing up in conflict zones. Even when peace comes, the long-term consequences of conflict remain.

Child soldier conscription a global problem

According to the U.N. secretary-general’s annual report on children in conflict released in April 2011, Africa has the highest number of child combatants (pdf). However, children in many parts of the world are affected by armed conflict.

Currently, the threat to children continues in these countries:

SOUTH SUDAN: The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), now a national military force, signed an agreement with the U.N. in February renouncing recruitment of child soldiers. The U.N. has estimated that 2,000 children are still serving in the SPLA.

AFGHANISTAN: More than 1,300 children were killed or maimed in conflict during 2010. Boys aged 9 to 17 have been recruited to carry out suicide attacks, place explosives, and carry munitions.

COLOMBIA: Armed groups involve children in many illegal activities, including drugs and human trafficking. Children are used to gather intelligence and are sexually exploited by paramilitary groups.

IRAQ: Children have been used by al-Qaida as spies and scouts, to transport military equipment, and to plant explosives. Many have been victims of indiscriminant bombings.

MYANMAR: Despite progress in relations with the national government and its openness to outside influences, children continue to serve in the ranks of armed forces, especially village militias and armed ethnic groups. There have been a number of reports of children killed when they accidentally detonated mines and other explosives.

Other national governments that actively use children soldiers in their ranks include Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Yemen.

United States still provides aid to countries using child soldiers

In 2009, Congress passed the Child Soldier Prevention Act (CSPA) — a bill to curtail U.S. military assistance to governments that fail to take steps to demobilize and stop recruiting children into the armed forces or government-supported militias. The bill had a simple goal: prevent U.S. taxpayer money from supporting armies that use child soldiers. World Vision and our supporters advocated for the passage of this bill.

However the U.S. government still provides military assistance to five violating countries. The current administration has failed to implement the law and is giving some offending countries a free pass — Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.

“It is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are using children as weapons,” says Jesse Eaves, World Vision’s policy advisor for children in crisis.

“We are complicit in the problem by allowing American taxpayer dollars to support governments that persist in recruiting child soldiers or refuse to hold military commanders fully accountable for their use of children,” Eaves explains.

World Vision and other organizations that advocate for the protection of children are urging the White House to start enforcing the CSPA without delay.

How you can help

Pray for children who are forced to fight. Pray that they would be freed from the armies in which they are forced to serve. Pray for successful reintegration into society for these children.

Contact the White House. Tell President Obama to stop providing military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Urge him to enforce the Child Soldier Prevention Act immediately. 

Give monthly to help provide care to children in conflict. Each month, you’ll help deliver critical care for children and communities terrorized by war and conflict, through interventions like counseling and rehabilitation; access to clean water, food, and healthcare; peacebuilding activities to help foster conflict resolution; and more.