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Child Soldiers: Facts & Statistics

Although wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have dominated Western media in recent years, some developing countries have been engaged in bloody battles for decades. Children often become involved in these conflicts as soldiers and even human shields.

Against Their Will: Facts About Child Soldiers

Young refugees from the Ivory Coast gathered at a camp in Liberia after political upheaval in 2011.
Young refugees from the Ivory Coast gathered at a camp in Liberia after political upheaval in 2011.

Countless children are forced to fight by state governments. According to the United Nations' definition of child soldiers, these combatants are under 18 years of age, but the reality is that many of them are far younger. Children as young as 10 or 11 years old are targeted by militant groups and dictatorships to fight in political and regional conflicts. Despite the fact that recruiting children under the age of 15 into armed forces is considered a war crime according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an estimated 300,000 children have been forced to take up arms and risk their lives.

According to Amnesty International, many children are abducted from their homes, schools and even local streets and coerced into fighting. Others volunteer out of extreme poverty and a lack of hope. In addition to the physical dangers of armed combat, child soldiers are at risk of prolonged psychological disorders, which are often caused by witnessing traumatic scenes of violence and death.

Data from Child Soldiers International suggests that some states, such as Myanmar, the Philippines, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, have a long history of using child soldiers in armed conflicts. However, in recent years, increasing numbers of children have been forced into combat in other countries, including Uganda, the Ivory Coast and Libya. Children have also been recruited by militant groups during the conflict in Mali. Between 2010 and 2012, an estimated 20 countries used children in combat. In some cases, children have been used by older fighters as human shields and suicide bombers.

A Vicious Cycle

One of the primary factors in the use of child soldiers as soldiers is extreme poverty. In developing nations, parents may be so desperate for food and medical treatment that they sell their children to armed militias. In other instances, children volunteer themselves out of a desire for regular meals and the illusion of protection. Other children are recruited by force.

Political instability can cause lasting poverty for millions of people. Food insecurity, as well as a lack of basic health care and education, can contribute to the likelihood that children will be forced to fight. According to UNICEF, children are more likely to become soldiers if they have been displaced from their families, live in combat zones or areas of civil unrest, and if they have limited access to education. Many young children are highly impressionable, and militant groups use this vulnerability to recruit them.

It can be challenging to help children in need who are at risk of becoming child soldiers, partly due to the fact that many conflicts involving young combatants are a result of governmental breakdown. Even identifying children at risk can be difficult.

Despite these challenges, ChildFund works in some of the poorest countries in the world to give hope and a brighter future for children by providing basic resources and educational opportunities. One of the ways you can help child soldiers and children at risk of becoming child soldiers is by sponsoring a child. For just $28 per month, you can help us work with other child development agencies and nongovernmental organizations to fight child poverty and help bring an end to the inhumane practice of recruiting child soldiers.

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