CRIN Children and Armed Conflict 167

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15 February 2013, issue 167 view online | subscribe | submit information


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International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers

Thousands of children continue to be abducted, recruited, killed, maimed or raped in conflicts around the world. February 12 marked the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.


Child recruitment

The Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, give the following definition of child soldiers:

"Any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities."

In many conflicts children take direct part in combat. However, their role is not limited to fighting. They may also be used in other roles such as porters, couriers, spies, guards, suicide bombers or human shields, or to perform domestic duties such as cooking and cleaning. Girls and boys may also be used for sexual purposes by armed forces or groups.

Recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law  and is defined as a war crime by the Rome Status.

Furthermore, human rights law declares 18 as the minimum legal age for recruitment and use of children in hostilities. Parties to conflict that recruit and use children are added by the Secretary-General in his annual list of shame.


Go to page of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict’s (SRSG) on child recruitment.

Read more on international standards.

Read the joint Statement by the European Union High Representative and UN Special Representative on the occasion of the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.


Focus on conflicts

Images from recent conflicts in Syria and Mali have put a human face to the suffering of these children.

The UN Secretary-General’s “list of shame”, a list of the parties that violate international standards on children and armed conflict, has grown considerably over the past years. Armed groups in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Iraq, all feature on the list, as well as the Syrian Government forces who regularly shell, burn, loot and raid schools, as well as assault or threaten teachers, students, and medical personnel.


In Syria, since protest movements similar to those across the Middle East and North Africa began in March 2011, the situation descended into an internal armed conflict – with much of the country suffering from fighting between the security forces and armed opposition groups. Systematic and widespread human rights abuses, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, are rife, with civilians bearing the brunt. 

More than 60,000 people have died according to the UN. The death toll includes civilians, including thousands of children, as well as pro- and anti-government fighters, with both sides in the conflict responsible for the killings. 

The continued fighting and the inability to use key ports is hampering the delivery of aid, according to the World Food Program, whose aid trucks have even been the targets of attacks. Almost 600,000 people have been displaced as a result of the conflict, with almost half a million fleeing to neighbouring countries. 

The annual report of the UN Secretary-General (SG) on children and armed conflict to the Security Council included Syrian government forces and their allied Shabiha militia for the first time as parties that violate international standards on children and armed conflict. "In almost all recorded cases, children were among the victims of military operations by government forces, including the Syrian armed forces, the intelligence forces and the Shabiha militia, in their ongoing conflict with the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army," the report says. Then

In September 2012, the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria found reasonable grounds to believe that Government forces and members of the Government-controlled militia known as the Shabiha had committed war crimes, gross violations against human rights and crimes against humanity.

Anti-Government armed groups have also committed war crimes, including murder and torture. In addition, they have been found to use childrenfor combat and other military purposes. Human Rights Watch reported in November 2012 that children as young as 14 have served in at least three opposition brigades, transporting weapons and supplies and acting as lookouts, and children as young as 16 have carried arms and taken combat roles against government forces.

Recent months have witnessed an escalation in the conflict in Syria, which is now at the end of its second year. The Database of the Syrian Revolution’s Martyrs reported 4860 children killed since the start of the uprising.



In Mali, an armed rebellion launched on 17 January 2012 expelled the army from the north of the country while a military coup overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré on 22 March. These two episodes ushered Mali into an unprecedented crisis.

Relations between the north and south have been historically fraught. The north has chafed under southern rule; the region has seen major rebellions from the Tuareg – nomadic – communities who feel marginalised. There have been rebellions in the 1990s, 2006-08 and the recent one that precipitated the present crisis.

The Tuareg group that launched the rebellion, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Mouve­ment national de libération de l’Azawad, MNLA) has been bypassed by an armed Islamist group, Ansar Dine that seized control of the north, effectively seceding from the rest of Mali and establishing a harsh form of Islamic law.

The ongoing crisis has led to serious human rights violations, a UN report said, including extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, amputations and forced disappearances at the hands of both rebels and Government forces. The report emphasises that women and girls in particular have suffered degrading treatment by hard-line Islamist groups based on "an extreme interpretation of Sharia law”. Girls as young as 12 or 13 are said to have been forcibly married to radical Islamists and sexually abused by them. Nearly half a million people have been displaced. A war crimes probe is under way at the International Criminal Court for acts committed in Mali since January 2012. 

It has been reported that children were abducted into the ranks of militants; they have been involved in the conflict by directly fighting, patrolling and scouting combat zones as well as staffing checkpoints.  

On 20 December, the UN Security Council authorised the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali, to be known as AFISMA, for an initial period of one year to assist the authorities in recovering rebel-held regions in the north and restoring the unity of the country. AFISMA troops should be deployed in the next few months.

The government in Bamako asked France to intervene militarily in January 2013. Since, rebel fighters in central and northern Mali have withdrawn from many of their positions under heavy fire from French and Malian troops.


News and updates

Child recruitment in Myanmar and CAR

Despite moves towards political reform, children continue to be recruited and used as soldiers by armed forces and armed groups in Myanmar.

Chance for Change - Ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Myanmar’, a new report published by Child Soldiers International shows that nearly a decade since international engagement on the issue first began and despite the signing of a Joint Action Plan to end the recruitment and use of children between the Myanmar government and the UN in June 2012, children continue to be present in the ranks of the Tatmadaw Kyi (Myanmar army) and the Border Guard Forces (BGFs) which function under the command of Tatmadaw Kyiand armed opposition groups.

Initial steps to implement the Joint Action Plan have led to the release of 42 children from the Tatmadaw Kyi, with other releases expected. However, measures to prevent future recruitment of children have not yet been implemented and there are no programmes yet to verify the presence of children in the Border Guard Forces (BGFs). Download the report.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG), Ms. Leila Zerrougui expressed her concern over recent reports in the Central African Republic of child recruitment by armed groups which form part of the Seleka rebel alliance, including the Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP) and the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR), in Bria, Hautte-Kotto prefecture.

On 10 December 2012, the Seleka rebellion launched an offensive from the north east of the country and rapidly captured several towns. A peace agreement was signed in January 2013 between the Government, the Seleka coalition, politico-military groups and opposition parties in Libreville.

In her briefing to the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, the SRSG alerted the UN body of the ongoing recruitment and use of children.

“The reports of child recruitment are a flagrant violation of commitments made by the CPJP and UFDR and must stop now,” Ms. Zerrougui said. The CPJP signed an action plan in November 2011 to end the recruitment and use of children with the United Nations, in line with Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005). For its part, the UFDR had committed to releasing children in its ranks to the United Nations in 2007 and 2011. Read more.


Concerns regarding US practices during armed conflict

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a report and recommendations to the US government on February 5, 2013 on its compliance with the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC).

The committee raised a number of concerns regarding US practices during armed conflict that were harmful to children. The committee said it was “alarmed” at reports of the deaths of hundreds of children from US attacks and air strikes in Afghanistan since the committee last reviewed US practices in 2008. It also expressed “deep concern” at the arrest and detention of children in Afghanistan, laws that exclude former child soldiers from securing asylum in the US, and presidential waivers to US laws that have allowed governments using child soldiers to receive US military assistance.

The OPAC was ratified by the US in 2002. It bars governments from forcibly recruiting children under 18 and from using them in direct hostilities. It also requires countries to take steps to prevent the use of child soldiers and to rehabilitate and assist children who have been involved in armed conflict. Read more.




Regardless of how children are recruited and of their roles, child soldiers are victims, whose participation in conflict bears serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being. They are commonly subject to abuse and most of them witness death, killing, and sexual violence. Many are forced to perpetrate these atrocities and some suffer serious long-term psychological consequences. The reintegration of these children is a very complex process.

Brief on child recruitment, the office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict’s (SRSG).


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