Facts About Child Soldiers
Today, as many as 300,000 children under the age of 18 serve in government forces or armed rebel groups. Some are as young as eight years old.
The participation of child soldiers has been reported in 33 on-going or recent armed conflicts in almost every region of the world. View the list of countries where child soldiers are being used.
Child soldiers are used by armed opposition forces, although many are used by government armies.
Children are uniquely vulnerable to military recruitment because of their emotional and physical immaturity. They are easily manipulated and can be drawn into violence that they are too young to resist or understand.
Technological advances in weaponry and the proliferation of small arms have contributed to the increased use of child soldiers. Lightweight automatic weapons are simple to operate, often easily accessible, and can be used by children as easily as adults.
Children are most likely to become child soldiers if they are poor, separated from their families, displaced from their homes, living in a combat zone or have limited access to education. Orphans and refugees are particularly vulnerable to recruitment.
Many children join armed groups because of economic or social pressure, or because children believe that the group will offer food or security. Others are forcibly recruited, "press-ganged" or abducted by armed groups.
Both girls and boys are used as child soldiers. In case studies in El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Uganda, almost a third of the child soldiers were reported to be girls. Girls may be raped, or in some cases, given to military commanders as "wives."
Once recruited, child soldiers may serve as porters or cooks, guards, messengers or spies. Many are pressed into combat, where they may be forced to the front lines or sent into minefields ahead of older troops. Some children have been used for suicide missions.
Children are sometimes forced to commit atrocities against their own family or neighbors. Such practices help ensure that the child is "stigmatized" and unable to return to his or her home community.
Few peace treaties recognize the existence of child soldiers, or make provisions for their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Many former child soldiers do not have access to the educational programs, vocational training, family reunification, or even food and shelter that they need to successfully rejoin civilian society. As a result, many end up on the street, become involved in crime, or are drawn back into armed conflict.