Child Soldiers

Child soldiers are children (male and female) under the age of 18 (some as young as 8 years old), recruited by a state or non-state armed group, and used as fighters, suicide bombers, human shields, messengers, spies, domestic or for a sexual purpose.

Throughout history, children have been involved in conflict. Since 2005, the use of child soldiers has spread to nearly every region of the world, and in almost every armed conflict. Although the exact number is close to impossible to define, in 2019, an estimated 300,000 child soldiers were in at least 20 countries.

Today, approximately 40 percent of child soldiers are girls. Girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence.

Children are targeted for military recruitment due to their vulnerability to influence. Children who live in poverty, are separated from families, have limited or no access to education, or live in a conflict region are more likely to be recruited by force. Some volunteer in order to escape poverty or they believe volunteering will provide income, food, or security. Still, others believe that participating in armed conflict is a rite of passage.

Child recruits often suffer mental health and behavioral disorders, alcohol abuse, and violent behavior and are at a higher risk for suicide.

The recruitment of child soldiers is a violation of several human rights laws. Children who commit crimes as soldiers are looked at more leniently. Crimes committed voluntarily are subject to justice under international juvenile justice standards.

International treaties have banned the use of child soldiers, but the practice remains widespread.
The ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Convention C182 – prohibits forced or compulsory recruitment of children under the age of 18 for use in armed conflict. C182 has been ratified in more than 150 countries.

The United Nations adopted the Optional Protocol to the Conventions on the Rights of the Child (2000). The protocol prohibits the forced recruitment or use of children in armed conflict. The protocol has been ratified in 110 countries.