CHILD SOLDIERS

An international conference in Washington this week (May 7-8) organized by the US Department of Labour will highlight the plight of child soldiers. More than 300 000 youngsters under 18 are fighting in conflicts all around the world. A report from the International Labour Organization, or ILO, looks at some of the roots of the problem and measures needed to help former combatants return to normal life.

Date issued: 13 February 2003 | Size/duration: 00:02:42 (6.55 MB)

An international conference in Washington this week (May 7-8) organized by the US Department of Labour will highlight the plight of child soldiers. More than 300 000 youngsters under 18 are fighting in conflicts all around the world. A report from the International Labour Organization, or ILO, looks at some of the roots of the problem and measures needed to help former combatants return to normal life.

These boys manning a road block in Sierra Leone are child soldiers. Weapons are getting lighter and easier to use. Children are being recruited younger and younger. They serve as fighters, porters, cooks, messengers or spies. Commanders value them as they’re fearless, and follow orders without question. Many girls are kidnapped and used as sex slaves.

Since the 1980s, the use of child soldiers has attracted increasing international attention.

Olara Otunnu, UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict

In terms of numbers, we estimate that there is probably a little over 300 000 young persons below the age of 18 who are being used as child soldiers, perhaps in some 30 conflict situations across the globe.

This Colombian fighter was found lying in a trench. He’s only 14 years old. In many countries, you can join the regular army when you’re 16 or 17. The ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour bans forced or compulsory recruitment of children – and it sets the age limit at 18.

Many children join armed groups as a way to escape from poverty. An International Labour Organization study of four central African countries found that most children interviewed said they took a personal decision to join up. But it’s clear many were under unbearable pressure. Fifteen percent said they were forced to join, often at gunpoint. And twenty-one per cent were actually kidnapped.

Sudanese boy

My mother was abducted and all our cattle were taken so I was left without any option rather than come to the SPLA for protection so I joined so that I could survive so that I could be protected and those are some of the reasons why I joined the SPLA.

Former child soldiers need skills training and jobs to help them resume normal life.

Rehabilitation centres like this one in Sierra Leone, help the children come to terms with their ordeal.

Olara Otunnu, UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict

I believe for most children who’ve gone through the hell of war, if the international community responds in good time and responds adequately with the right tools, it is possible to win them back, give back to them their lives, and for many of them to give back to them if not their childhood, then their youth.

The wounds are psychological as well as physical. Child soldiers need long-term support, whether they are treated as ex-combatants, or children who’ve lost their childhood.