According to Amnesty International the number of child soldiers is rising. They are estimated to be more than 300 thousand.
He speaks in a low voice: “I was ten when some gunmen arrived and took me away from school and forced me to follow them. I fought with them for four years. It ‘s true, I killed and robbed. I used to take drugs to be able to carry on. How do I feel? They have taken my emotions away from me. I am not able to feel anything anymore. I can only see blood and hatred. But I would love to go to school. I dream in the night to be a doctor.” His eyes linger on the savannah. Milton is only 14. He was recently released by the South Sudan Democratic Army – Cobra Faction (SSDA-CF) rebels.
Milton and another 500 children, including 30 girls, were freed by the rebel group near the Gumuruk village in the oil region of Jonglei, one of the most affected by the civil war. The Cobra rebels continued to fight even after the country gained independence in 2011. The civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, ignited by a political struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. The ongoing South Sudanese conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead, and has displaced more than one million.
John Budd, Unicef’s spokesperson in South Sudan said: “Cobra is just one of several militias that have been fighting the government since South Sudan won independence in 2011. Many other terrorist groups recruit children for military purposes.” Last February a UNICEF education team reported that 89 children were abducted while taking their exams at a school in the city of Wau Shilluk near Malakal, the Upper Nile state capital. Witnesses, describing the abductions as a mass recruitment operation, said that the rebels surrounded the school and went classroom by classroom, taking away by force any boy thought to be over 12 years old.
Child soldiers on the rise
According to a recent report of Amnesty International, the number of child soldiers is rising. They are estimated to be more than 300 thousand, both boys and girls.
Over the last three years, the war has basically divided the Central African Republic into two factions: the Muslim Seleka rebels and the anti-Balaka, who are generally mainly animist, or ‘extremist Christian’.
Boys and girls, as young as eight years old were recruited and used by all parties in the conflict to take direct part in inter-ethnic and religious violence. Children NGO ‘Save The Children’ has reported that up to 10,000 children have been recruited by armed groups of both factions during the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The United Nations also documented new cases of recruitment of children by multiple armed groups operating in the eastern part of the the Democratic Republic of Congo. Children, in some cases as young as 10, were recruited and used as combatants, or in support functions such as porters and cooks. Girls were reportedly used as sex slaves or were victims of other forms of sexual violence.
According to the UN, at least 6,000 children, 300 of whom are girls, have been recruited by several armed groups. About 80% of cases of child recruitment are centred on the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu.
The Islamist group Al Shabab controls most of southern and central Somalia. Al Shabab militants take away boys, as young as 10 years, from schools and force them to fight for the group, while some others are utilized as suicide bombers. According to some NGOs, some children are also recruited into the armed forces of the transitional government.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram, another Islamic extremist group can rely on hundreds of child soldiers in its ranks. The terrorist group is currently recruiting by force young people in Cameroon and Chad. In recent months, they have also utilized girls as suicide bombers.
Transport of explosives
While in Colombia, thousands of boys and girls serve as soldiers in the guerrilla group The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in the National Liberation Army or in paramilitary groups.
In Afghanistan, despite the fact that the government has taken several measures to protect children from being recruited into and used by national security forces, they continue to be recruited by the parties in conflict, such as the Haqqani Network and the Taliban. In some extreme cases, children were even used as suicide bombers, or for the manufacture of weapons and the transport of explosives.
And ISIS’s advance through Iraq and Syria and the proliferation of armed groups, have made children even more vulnerable to recruitment in the two countries. Twelve year old children are subjected to military training and are used as informants, or as checkpoint patrollers. In some cases, children have also been used as suicide bombers or to carry out executions. In Yemen, boys aged 14 have been recruited by the army to fight against the Houthi movement which, in turn, like many Yemeni rebel groups, has long been accused of routinely recruiting children into its ranks.
In Burma, thousands of boys serve in the national army, with children as young as 11 forcibly recruited off the streets and sent into combat operations. Children also serve with some of the armed ethnic opposition groups. In Chad, thousands of children have served in both government and rebel forces. In 2011 the government signed an action plan to end its use of child soldiers and recruitment has decreased sharply. In the Philippines, children are recruited by rebel forces, including the New People’s Army, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In Thailand the rebel group Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani have recruited hundreds of children of ethnic Malay Muslims, using them as couriers, messengers and sometimes fighters in the ongoing conflict in the southern provinces of the country.
“Children are increasingly vulnerable to recruitment and use by armed groups as conflicts around the world become more brutal, intense and widespread”, UNICEF and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said. “While governments of the world have made progress in recognizing that children have no place in their armies, the recruitment of child soldiers is still a huge problem, especially with armed groups. Out of 59 parties engaged in conflict, identified by the Secretary-General for grave violations against children, 57 are named because they are recruiting and using child soldiers”, she added.