Child Soldiers

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Today common problem in (mostl) African fragile and/or Failed states is children soldiers.
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  DCAF This document is part of the DCAF Backgrounder series, which provides practitioners with concise introductions to a variety of issues in the field of security sector governance and reform. Who is a child soldier?Why is this issue important? What are the main challenges?How and why are childsoldiers recruited? How is the problem of child soldiers being addressed? What else can be done to address the problem of child soldiers?Further information Who is a child soldier? For the purposes of this Backgrounder, a child soldier is defined as a person under a prescribed age (see Box on page 2) who is a member, or attached to, a country's armed forces or any other regular or irregular armed force or group, whether or not he or she is involved in armed conflict. Child soldiers fill a variety of roles, from taking part in hostilities to logistical and support functions. They may also be exploited in other ways, for example, as sex slaves. As highlighted in the Cape Town Principles, a set of recommendations for governments and communities adopted at an international symposium in 1997, the term child soldier does not only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms. Why is this issue important? The underage recruitment of child soldiers is widespread. Children continue to serve on the frontline in numerous conflicts (at least ten according to the 2004Global Report on Child Soldiers of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers ).The use of child soldiers in conflict can have long-term consequences for the children concerned, seriously harming their psychological, physical and social evolution. It can also have an adverse impact on development, stability, prosperity and democratisation.There is a growing international consensus that the forced or compulsory recruitment of children – girls and boys under the age of 18, and their use in hostilities by both armed forces and armed groups, is illegal and one of the worst forms of child labour. The recruitment and use of children under 15 is a war crime. This consensus is expressed in a comprehensive set of international legal instruments, such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, and is reinforced by a series of UN Security Council resolutions.  2 What are the main challenges? Efforts to address the problem of child soldiers require a policy approach that is innovative, multidisciplinary, comprehensive and long term. Some considerations include the following:ãthe causes of underage recruitment are complex and diverse, necessitating a holistic approach that looks at all aspects of child protection;ãpolicy will usually have to be directed not only at governments, but also at non-state actors, since they are the main recruiters of child soldiers;ãchild soldiers need to be reintegrated into their srcinal communities; where this is not possible, an alternative solution must be identified;ãsuccess in addressing the issue of child soldiers will in large measure depend upon the overall effectiveness of peacemaking and post-conflict reconstruction efforts, including security sector reform. How and why are child soldiers recruited? Individuals are recruited by forced, compulsory or voluntary means, though the distinctions between these categories may easily become blurred. Forced recruitment  is enlistment into armed forces or groups by means of abduction and/or the threat or use of violence or other reprisals against an individual or family members. The forced recruitment of child soldiers violates a number of fundamental human rights, including the right to protection from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse    (Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 19). Reasons behind the forced recruitment of child soldiers may be that children: ã work for lower pay than regular soldiers;ã can be easily used in battle and are readily manipulated;ã normally constitute no threat to leaders;ã may pose a moral challenge to enemy forces; ã can be easily pressured into illicit activities such as trafficking or be exploited as sex slaves; or ã simply swell the ranks if there is a shortage of adult soldiers (particularly in protracted conflict situations). Compulsory recruitment , also known as conscription, is service required by statute in regular state armed forces. Compulsory recruitment of persons younger than 18 years is forbidden by the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts.   The Role of Free Choice in the Dispute over Voluntary Recruitment While there is a strong consensus that the forced or compulsory recruitment of children is illegal, there is a lively debate among policymakers, international lawyers and activists over the legitimacy of the voluntary recruitment of persons under 18. At the heart of this debate is the notion of free choice. Clearly the transformation from childhood to adulthood takes place along a continuum, as does the capacity of the individual to make independent choices. However, some argue that it is better to make norms concerning the voluntary recruitment correspond exactly to accepted definitions of childhood, which is generally recognised as under 18 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and other treaties. Critics of this position counter that this standard is somewhat arbitrary. For instance, many of these critics believe that a 17-year old will be as likely be able to make an independent decision on whether or not to join the military as an 18-year old. Some even argue that such definitions are ethno-centric, though considering that some of the strongest avocates of 18 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment are from Africa, this charge appears to be unfounded.  3 Compulsory recruitment of child soldiers is primarily conducted to fulfil state needs for soldiers in times of conflict, though in principle it could be used to sustain a large peacetime army. Voluntary recruitment  implies that a choice to join the armed forces has been freely made. The Optional Protocol  sets 16 years as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment for government forces, with the stipulation that that no person under 18 is to take direct part in hostilities. Various factors may push children to enlist voluntarily  in armed forces:ã political and security  (abuse by state or non-state forces, conflict, invasion or occupation);ã economic and social  (economic destruction, poverty, unemployment, lack of education, domestic violence or exploitation);ã the need for protection  (loss of family or home, harassment and discrimination of individuals or their families); ã cultural (value systems that glorify military life, peer pressure);ã ideological  (fighting for what is believed to be a ‘just’ cause);ã personal  (gaining of military privileges, an education, money or status). How is the problem of child soldiers being addressed? There are four basic approaches to addressing the issue of child soldiers: prevention, norm development, enforcement, and Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programmes. Prevention is focused on addressing the factors that lead to the recruitment and the use of child soldiers. In addition to the wide variety of efforts that work to prevent conflict from occurring, a number of countries and international organisations have issued guidelines for their own personnel working in potential conflict situations. For instance, the EU has issued Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflicts  that require its missions abroad to take into account the status of children in conflict areas, including in their preventive and early-warning programs. The three other approaches addressed below may also play a preventive role. Norms on child soldiers are progressively evolving in a variety of areas (see box above). The minimum age for recruitment and participation in hostilities is one of the most important. A number of advocates continue to campaign for a prohibition of all recruitment for under-18s. Another norm is the obligation for countries that have used child soldiers to demobilise and reintegrate them into society, whether by reuniting them with their families, providing vocational training or assisting them by other means. There are also a variety of enforcement mechanisms  for dealing with child soldiers (see Box on page 6). Punitive mechanisms  include courts for trying individuals and sanctions against states, groups and individuals that use child soldiers. Monitoring mechanisms seek to publicise or otherwise make known the use of child soldiers. Expertise and capacity-building mechanisms  aim to increase general awareness about issues relating to child soldiers and find solutions to problems arising in specific countries or regions. Who recruits child soldiers? The examples below are taken from the Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 published by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers:ã governments: e.g., Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Myanmar, Sudan and Ugandaã government-backed paramilitary groups and militias: e.g., in Colombia, Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Uganda ã non-state armed groups (opposition forces of various types including warlord, rebel and terrorist groups): e.g., in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Laos, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Yemen and Uganda  4 1816*n/a1815151515 Compulsory Recruitment(Age)Voluntary Recruitment(Age)Provision on demobilisationProvision for rehabilitation and social reintegration 1818181815151515 * The Optional Protocol requires states parties to make a binding declaration upon ratification setting the minimum age for voluntary recruitment at 16 years or above, and specifying safeguards that will be taken to ensure that such recruitment is not forced or coerced. In conflict and post-conflict situations, DDR programmes  are the main policy vehicle for dealing with child soldiers once the armed force or group has agreed to their demobilisation. DDR programs for child soldiers should be established separately and independently of DDR programmes for adults and must take into account a range of special considerations (see Box on page 5).Experience with DDR programmes has shown that: ã DDR programmes for children should not wait for or be dependent on post-conflict reconstruction efforts, and whenever possible should even begin during the conflict itself, as has been done in Colombia, the Democratic the Congo, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Sudan; and ã DDR programmes must be integrated into peace negotiations and resulting peace agreements;ã the structures and programmes for demobilised child soldiers require sufficient resources to ensure sustainable rehabilitation and prevent re-recruitment. What else can be done to address the problem of child soldiers? Advocacy efforts can be strengthened through:ã more direct contacts with authorities (recruiters, military officials, the government) and, wherever possible, non-state groups involved in the recruitment of children; Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003)Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts (2000)International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999)African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990)Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)Protocols I and II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (1977)Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (2002)Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) Relevant Treaties(with minimum recruitment age)International Courts (below this age recruitment becomes a war crime) XXXXX
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