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World Vision’s Jesse Eaves answers questions about the use of child soldiers around the world, including where progress has been made in eliminating this practice, where more work needs to be done, and what the United States can do to be a global leader in stopping it.
Of all the brutalizing effects of conflict, none is more distressing than armed groups recruiting and using children as soldiers, sex slaves, even suicide bombers.
There’s no way to make a reliable count of the number of children serving in armed groups, but estimates range up to 250,000 or 300,000.
What is known, according to the recently released U.N. secretary-general’s annual report on children and conflict, is that child soldiers are recruited and used in 23 conflict situations around the world by 51 armed groups and seven nation’s armies.
Jesse Eaves, a senior policy adviser for World Vision, recently reflected on the state of the world’s child soldiers, as highlighted in the U.N. and the U.S. State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons report.
This past year, we saw some very encouraging developments from Myanmar. Almost two years ago, their government signed a Joint Action Plan to stop the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
World Vision is part of the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting under this action plan. This task force is charged with reporting suspected cases and working with the government to ensure compliance with the action plan.
In the past year, 273 children were discharged from the military. However, there are still at least 200 children on the list of suspected child soldiers, so there is still more work to be done. It’s slow progress, but progress nonetheless.
The U.N.-led campaign called Children, Not Soldiers has had some success, too. The continued engagement of the U.N. led to joint action plans to end using child soldiers in multiple countries. These plans allow us to see how governments are doing and provide opportunities for us to assist governments as they try to demobilize child soldiers.
Chad, for example, showed a lot of progress and even passed a law mandating birth certificates for all citizens, in part to prevent recruitment of underage soldiers.
This year, the mandate for the U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict expires. We are working with the U.N. to see that the mandate is renewed, given the impressive gains that office has realized around the world.
South Sudan is the largest and most tragic case. Nearly half a million children have been displaced by South Sudan’s brutal civil war, making them extremely vulnerable to being recruited by armed groups. Whereas a year ago there were a few hundred children left in the army ranks, there are now over 9,000 children fighting for both sides.
Central African Republic and South Sudan are both crises at the highest level in terms of abuses against children. They include everything from killing and maiming of children, use of children as child soldiers, and attacking schools.
In some countries where the government doesn’t recruit child soldiers, other armed groups do. These include Colombia, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, to name a few.
The passage of the Child Soldier Prevention Act in 2008, which cut off military aid to any country using child soldiers in their national army, was a good step. Sadly, however, the United States has not been the leader it could be. The administration has been uneven in its implementation of the law.
The law requires that the State Department publish a list each year of countries that recruit and use child soldiers and that these countries not be eligible for military aid. This year, the State Department included Myanmar, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen on the list.
Yemen and South Sudan receive what are called “national security waivers” so aid can continue to flow. Some military aid was cut off to DRC, but some still goes through to help professionalize the army and help demobilize children.
Issuing these waivers means U.S. taxpayer money can support militaries that use children as weapons of war. This has to stop. The U.S. government must not let politics trump the protection of the millions of vulnerable children in South Sudan and elsewhere. Citizens can write to their U.S. senators and representatives, asking them to ensure this law is enforced so that children are protected.
Not always. However, just as with anyone coming out of sex trafficking, you treat them like a survivor and never like a criminal.
Child soldiers are often forced to perform horrific acts against adults and other children. A child who is forced to serve as a soldier shouldn’t be held responsible for crimes they commit under duress. They need forgiveness and restoration.
It’s crucial that every child affected by war gains access to the care and services they need to get their lives back on track so they can get the chance to live life in all its fullness.