Thousands of Children Fight, Killed in Conflicts Around the Globe
By: Winslow Wheeler | November 17, 2004
More U.S. leadership needed to reduce the numbers
U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Tens of thousands of children continue to be used as "armed pawns" in more than 20 conflicts around the world, said the U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers today.
The U.S. Campaign's remarks came in conjunction with the release of the international Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers' global survey of child soldiers. The report states that children under the age of 18 are fighting in almost every major conflict, in both government and opposition forces. They are being injured, subjected to horrific abuse and killed.
"The U.S. government can help end this human rights crisis by putting pressure on governments and armed groups around the world to stop all use of children as combatants," said Rachel Stohl of the Center for Defense Information, a steering committee member of the U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
'Child Soldiers Global Report 2004' reviews trends and developments since 2001 in 196 countries. Despite some improvements the situation remained the same or deteriorated in many countries. Wars ending in Afghanistan, Angola and Sierra Leone led to the demobilization of 40,000 children, but over 25,000 were drawn into conflicts in Côte d'Ivoire and Sudan alone.
Armed groups, both government-backed paramilitaries and opposition forces, are the main culprits in recruitment and use of child soldiers. Dozens of groups in at least 21 conflicts have recruited tens of thousands of children since 2001, forcing them into combat, training them to use explosives and weapons, and subjecting them to rape, violence and hard labor.
At least ten governments, including the United States, have used minors in armed conflict during the past three years. The United States Army deployed at least 62 17-year old soldiers to participate in U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003 and early 2004, in violation of a UN treaty it ratified in December 2002.* The treaty sets 18 as the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities.
"To show leadership in ending the use of child soldiers globally, the US armed forces must meet its legal obligations to keep minors out of combat," said Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch, who also serves on the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign.
As part of their UN Treaty obligations, the U.S. armed forces adopted policies in early 2003 that were intended to prevent the deployment of soldiers under 18 into combat areas. These policies apparently were not implemented effectively, although the US Army reported that by late March 2004, 17-year olds were no longer serving in Iraq.
At least 60 governments legally recruit 16 and 17-year-olds into their armed forces. About 10,000 17-year-olds voluntarily join the U.S. military each year.
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* The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict sets eighteen as the minimum age for all direct participation in armed conflict, all forced recruitment or conscription, and all recruitment by non-state armed groups. It allows government forces to recruit volunteers as young as sixteen with certain safeguards. By November 2004 it had been ratified by 87 states, including the United States, and signed by 116.