Number of child soldiers involved in conflicts worldwide jumps 159% in 5 years

The number of child soldiers involved in conflicts globally has increased 159 percent within five years, with almost 30,000 verified recruitment cases since 2012, Child Soldiers International, a London-based human rights organization, said in a press release on Monday, February 11.

“Ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and persistent unrest in Somalia, South Sudan, DR Congo, Central African Republic and elsewhere are all leaving children increasingly exposed to recruitment,” the release said. “Boys and girls are routinely being used as fighters and at checkpoints, as informants, to loot villages and as domestic and sexual slaves.”

Child Soldiers International analyzed United Nations annual reports on Children and Armed Conflict issued in 2013-2018, recording 29,128 verified cases of child recruitment in 17 countries. Even though a significant number of cases usually take place in Africa, about half of them happen outside the continent, in countries like Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, and Colombia.

Records showed that in 2012, 3,159 children were recruited in 12 countries, while in 2017, the number jumped to 8,185 in 15 countries, an increase of 159 percent. At the same time, sexual violence grew 40 percent, with 951 incidents verified globally in 2017, up from 679 in 2012.

“Child recruitment is among the most desperate human rights issues of our time. These statistics alone are shocking and probably only scratch the surface on the true scale of child exploitation by armed actors around the world,” Isabelle Guitard, Child Soldiers International Director, said.

In 2017, seven state armed forces and 56 non-state armed groups were recruiting and using children, according to the U.N.

Child Soldiers International highlighted that exploitation of girls has been on the rise, with 893 cases in 2017, compared to 216 cases the year before.

Girls’ involvement in conflicts is often overlooked because they are largely used away from frontlines, but in Africa, for example, between 30 and 40 percent of recruited children are girls.

“Consequently, they can fall outside official statistics and go unseen by child protection agencies – and thus this number is likely far higher,” the organization said.

In many cases, children are abducted by parties to conflict or their families are forced to hand them over. However, some minors choose to join armed groups voluntarily, but the extent to which such actions are genuinely free has been difficult to establish, Child Soldiers International said. Often, insecurity, lack of education and economic opportunities, personal or community injustice, as well as ethnic or religious issues leave children with little choice.

In July, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution to “strengthen mechanisms to prevent violations against children.”

“Today’s resolution is providing us with important tools to better respond to the needs of boys and girls, such as the reintegration of former child soldiers,” U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba said at the time.

And in September,  the Global Coalition for Reintegration, co-chaired by the U.N. Office for Children and Armed Conflict and the U.N. Children’s Fund, was launched.

According to Child Soldiers International, these initiatives could help to improve the dire situation: out of 55,000 children freed since 2013, only 70 percent have received support.

Although the U.N. Office for Children and Armed Conflict said dependable and predictable funding for reintegration programming has been steadily decreasing, whereas the needs are significantly on the rise.

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