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Child Soldiers - 1


The Global Persecution of Women


The Girl Child and Armed Conflict: Recognizing and Addressing Grave Violations of Girls' Human Rights

UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) in collaboration with UNICEF, September 2006

During armed conflict, girls are subject to widespread and, at times, systematic forms of human rights violations that have mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and material repercussions. These violations include illegal detention with or without family members, abduction and forced removal from families and homes, disappearances, torture and other inhuman treatment, amputation and mutilation, forced recruitment into fighting forces and groups, slavery, sexual exploitation, increased exposure to HIV/AIDS, and a wide range of physical and sexual violations, including rape, enforced pregnancy, forced prostitution, forced marriage and forced child-bearing.There is urgent need for better documentation, monitoring and reporting on the extreme suffering that armed conflict inflicts on girls, as well as on the many roles girls play during conflict and its aftermath.

For the full report, please click HERE

Human Rights Watch, Stop the Use of Child Soldiers! N.d. downloaded 9 Dec. 2006.

I’ve seen people get their hands cut off, a ten-year-old girl raped and then die, and so many men and women burned alive... So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn’t dare cry out loud.

- fourteen-year-old girl, abducted in January 1999 by the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel group in Sierra Leone

In dozens of countries around the world, children have become direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence, some 300,000 children are serving as soldiers in current armed conflicts. These young combatants participate in all aspects of contemporary warfare. They wield AK-47s and M-16s on the front lines of combat, serve as human mine detectors, participate in suicide missions, carry supplies, and act as spies, messengers or lookouts.

Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make obedient soldiers. Many are abducted or recruited by force, and often compelled to follow orders under threat of death. Others join armed groups out of desperation. As society breaks down during conflict, leaving children no access to school, driving them from their homes, or separating them from family members, many children perceive armed groups as their best chance for survival. Others seek escape from poverty or join military forces to avenge family members who have been killed.

Child soldiers are being used in more than thirty countries around the world. Human Rights Watch has interviewed child soldiers from countries including Angola, Colombia, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda. In Sierra Leone, thousands of children abducted by rebel forces witnessed and participated in horrible atrocities against civilians, including beheadings, amputations, rape, and burning people alive. Children forced to take part in atrocities were often given drugs to overcome their fear or reluctance to fight.

In Colombia, tens of thousands of children have been used as soldiers by all sides to the country’s ongoing bloody conflict. Government-backed paramilitaries recruit children as young as eight, while guerrilla forces use children to collect intelligence, make and deploy mines, and serve as advance troops in ambush attacks.

In southern Lebanon, boys as young as twelve years of age have been subject to forced conscription by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), an Israeli auxiliary militia. When men and boys refuse to serve, flee the region to avoid conscription, or desert the SLA forces, their entire families may be expelled from the occupied zone.

Girls are also used as soldiers in many parts of the world. In addition to combat duties, girls are subject to sexual abuse and may be taken as “wives” by rebel leaders in Angola, Sierra Leone and Uganda. In Northern Uganda, Human Rights Watch interviewed girls who had been impregnated by rebel commanders, and then forced to strap their babies on their backs and take up arms against Ugandan security forces.

Because of their immaturity and lack of experience, child soldiers suffer higher casualties than their adult counterparts. Even after the conflict is over, they may be left physically disabled or psychologically traumatized. Frequently denied an education or the opportunity to learn civilian job skills, many find it difficult to re-join peaceful society. Schooled only in war, former child soldier are often drawn into crime or become easy prey for future recruitment.

For full Human Rights Watch report (2004) on "Children as Weapons of War," see here.

Kim Sengupta, “Girl Soldiers: The Forgotten Victims of War,” Independent, UK, 25 April 2005.

Girls make up almost half of the 300,000 children involved in wars, according to a report which says they are abducted, raped and often used as currency among fighters.

In the violent, desperate world of child soldiers, they are the most vulnerable, subjected to the worst abuse and with little chance of returning to something resembling normal life.

They are far more out of the reach of the international agencies than boy soldiers under 18, and are wary of joining rehabilitation schemes because of fear that it will expose what had happened to them and lead to further shunning by their home communities.

The report, Forgotten Casualties of War, by the charity Save the Children, highlights the plight of the girls, some as young as eight, who have been left without help after surviving the horrifying experience of war.

Research has shown girls are used extensively in combat in a wide range of international conflicts, in some cases by groups who have had the support of Britain and the United States. Among countries involved are Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the DRC, there are up to 12,500 girls in armed groups. In Sri Lanka, 43 per cent of the 51,000 children involved are girls.

But far fewer girls go through official reintegration. In the DRC, just 2 per cent of those going through Save the Children's demilitarisation are girls. In Sierra Leone, it is 4.2 per cent.

Mike Aaronson, the director general of the organisation, said: "When people picture conflict they think of men in bloody combat, but it's girls who are the horrifying and hidden face of war. Most girls who escape or leave an armed group do so on their own because formal programmes have not been designed with them in mind and can actually make matters worse."

One of the main problems is that returning boy soldiers are much more likely to be accepted than the girls. The boys can even boast about what they have done as "warriors" while the girls are ostracised as "immoral", "unclean" and "promiscuous" because they had been used sexually. There are also fears that fighters who took the girls away may return to reclaim them, and take revenge on the community.

Many rescued girls are driven from their villages and end up working as prostitutes in nearby towns. As well as sexual abuse and combat, female captives are often forced into arduous and dangerous tasks, surviving on less food and medical aid. Many suffer chronic illness and disability, and have to look after babies conceived after rape.

Former girl soldiers say they want their families and communities to understand it is not their fault they were forced into joining an armed group. They want medical help, support in bringing up babies, and access to education and jobs. Above all, they say, they do not want to be treated as pariahs.

Abducted, raped and abused


Joined a guerrilla group after leaving home because her impoverished family could not support her.

"We suffered a lot. I had lice in my hair. We had to do all the cooking for lots and lots of people who were there. It was a lot of work. The men took us as their 'wives'. They treated us very badly. There were lots of little houses in the military camp. They put girls and the men in those houses. They didn't even consider that we were children. At any time they wanted, they came and had sex with us.

"I felt like I had no energy left within me. I felt so weak and feeble and as if I had lost all my intelligence. There were seven of us girls who were treated the same way. Now I feel bad here." She pointed to her stomach.

Aimerance eventually escaped and found her way to her home village. The rebels came looking for her twice, but she managed to evade them.


Abducted when she was eight. " When the war came to our village it was five o'clock in the morning. There were about 20 men. We ran to the bush, but I got separated from my family. We were captured and taken to Sierra Leone. Everybody slept in the same room. At first I refused to be a wife, but I had to agree because there was nobody to give me food apart from the rebels. So I agreed to be one of the wives. I was a wife for eight months. I wasn't feeling well, because I had not started my period. I used to have pain in my abdomen. I escaped when there was an attack on a village. I walked for three days in the bush to get away."

Two years later Hawa was captured again. But she has returned home and is in a Save the Children project.


Forced to join guerrilla group when she was 11.

"They were beating people and they said to follow them. We followed them to Konia. We carried ammo to the front line. When they brought water we would wash clothes. We cooked for them, and we made hot water and bathed the wounded. One man took me. I didn't want to be his 'wife'. He forced me. He had three other wives my age. When other rebels came, all the soldiers were running away to Monrovia. We followed and passed our village. Mama was there."

Zoe went to a UN disarmament camp, and got the standard $300 for her arms. She is in a Save the Children programme, but she is afraid of being taken again by one captor. His brother has visited her.

Jeremy Lovell, “Child soldiers in front line of wars across world,” Washington Post, 17 Nov. 2004.

LONDON (Reuters) - Boys and girls as young as nine years old are in the front line of wars across the world, and even when the fighting has finished they are largely neglected in the peace process, a report said on Wednesday.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, governments and armed opposition groups have recruited children in their thousands and either trained them to kill and maim or used them as sex slaves, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said.

"Children have continued to play a significant part in some of the world's most bitter and long-running wars," it said in its 2004 global report.

"Governments killed, tortured and arbitrarily detained children suspected of being opposition combatants or supporters," it added.

The Coalition groups a range of human rights bodies including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, World Vision International and Defence for Children International.

It said while some countries had instituted demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programmes aimed specifically at child soldiers where conflicts had abated, in many cases the young fighters were ignored in the reconstruction process.

"DDR programmes brought hope to thousands of former child soldiers, but girls were often excluded from them despite having frequently been recruited and abducted by armed groups for sexual purposes," the report said.

While Africa remained the worst offender in the use and abuse of child soldiers -- particularly Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda -- the phenomenon was also widespread in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

"Some share of the blame lies with the international community. Governments continued to provide military training and assistance to armed forces using child soldiers or encouraging paramilitaries to do so," the report said.

Although some 40,000 child soldiers were demobilised as wars ended in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and elsewhere, the eruption of hostilities in places like Ivory Coast and Liberia drew 30,000 others into armed conflicts, the report said.

In Uganda the rebel Lord's Resistance Army had abducted an estimated 20,000 children, and militias recruited by the Ugandan government to fight them also used child soldiers, the report, covering 2001-2004, added.

But the Middle East was no stranger to the sight of children on the front lines, it said, noting child soldiers in Iran, Iraq, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Yemen and Sudan -- where it said 20,000 children were in government forces and armed opposition groups.

It said armed Palestinian groups had used children as suicide bombers at least nine times and, in response, Israeli armed forces shot at youths throwing stones and denied child detainees the right to even minimal humans rights.

In the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir children were forcibly recruited into armed forces from as young as 13, the report said, while in Indonesia children again as young as 13 were being used by the Free Aceh Movement.

The United States did not escape criticism in the report which noted that several 16 and 17 year olds were still being held in the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba as "enemy combatants" -- although three aged between 13 and 15 had been released.

Adam Brookes, “Child soldier use rises globally,” BBC News, 16 Jan. 2004.

The use of child soldiers in war is continuing around the world and in some African countries it has increased, human rights groups say.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says in Ivory Coast, Liberia and the DR Congo recruitment of children increased massively in 2003.

It says a series of moves by the UN aimed at eradicating such practices has made remarkably little progress.

It urges the UN to take tough actions against states using children in war.

Travel restrictions

Soldiers, sexual slaves, labourers, porters and spies: children continue to perform all those roles in conflicts around the world, a new report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says.

In Burma, it says testimony from former soldiers indicates that up to 20% of recruits into the government's armed forces were under the age of 15.

The group - which includes Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International - calls on the UN Security Council to renew its efforts against states and armed groups that use children in war.

Among its ambitious recommendations is ending the flow of weapons to those recruiting children, placing travel restrictions on leaders who use children in their armies and ending military assistance to them.

The UN is due to debate the issue of children and armed conflict next week.

The coalition's report is designed to prick the organisation's conscience on a particularly intractable form of human rights abuse.

Sri Lanka

Frances Harrison, Concern over freed child soldiers,” BBC News, 27 April 2004.

The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, says that more than 1,300 child soldiers have been released by Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka.

Unicef say their investigations have revealed that the releases took place after recent factional fighting in the east of the island.

But a statement from the US-based Human Rights Watch group expressed concern that they may be recruited again.

Unicef say only about a quarter of those released were on their database.

'Many new cases'

Unicef says about 200 child soldiers were formally released by the mainstream faction of the Tamil Tigers when they quashed a rebellion in the east of the country by a breakaway commander two weeks ago.

Another 1,100 children were sent home or allowed to ran away.

Unicef says it has investigated these cases and ascertained they are all child soldiers.

What is most worrying is that only about a quarter of the released child soldiers were on their database.

This comprises a list of more than 1,000 cases based on reports of abductions and complaints from parents.

Because so many new cases are coming to light now, the assumption is that child recruitment was much more extensive than previously thought.

Indeed human rights activists have long maintained that only about a quarter of the child recruitment cases were ever reported.

And a statement from the New York based Human Rights Watch organisation says it has reports that the rebels are making announcements on loudspeakers on vans in the east encouraging former fighters to re-enlist.

Unicef says it cannot confirm this, but local people in the east say there are rumours that the disbanded child soldiers are returning to the rebel movement for want of other options.

Most find it difficult to return to school and cannot find work, while their families often find it hard to feed another mouth.


Callum Macrae, “Uganda's fallen child rebels,” BBC News, 8 April 2004.

There are few things which can prepare you for the terrible reality of witnessing a "military victory" against the kidnapped child soldiers of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

I was in the northern town of Gulu, filming for the forthcoming BBC2 special, A Day of War, when Lt Col Charles Otema, the incongruously genial head of military intelligence for the area, contacted me.

He said government troops from the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) had scored a "significant blow" against the rebels.

He told me the LRA's second-in-command, Vincent Otti, had been injured in the battle, 55 rebels had been killed - and that, as we spoke, government forces were pursuing the rest through the bush.

He invited me to come and see the evidence for myself.


In a tiny military helicopter, we flew 85 kilometres north-west, towards the Sudanese border.

Northern Uganda is one of the most fertile places in Africa - it could feed the whole of Uganda and more.

But as we buzzed through the heat we could see the land below, hatched with the marks of abandoned fields and villages. This land has been terrorised by the LRA.

One and a half million people have been displaced by the war and live today in cramped and isolated refugee camps, dependent on heavily-armed convoys from the World Food Programme.

Even there they are not safe.

Just two months ago, as many as 300 were killed when the LRA raided just one such camp, Barlonyo, near Lira.

Terrible initiation

Once the LRA had a programme of sorts ¬ a combination of Christian fundamentalism and political opposition to the government of President Yoweri Museveni.

Today it is as much a cult as an army, preying on the mainly Acholi people of the north, the very people it claims to represent.

The LRA survives by raiding villages and camps, stealing food and provisions, and abducting people ¬ mainly women and children.

The older ones they will use as porters till they have no further use of them. The younger ones ¬ the 10, 11 and 12-year-olds, they will keep.

Not uncommonly they will steal perhaps three kids from the same family and then, in the bush, force the youngest two to kill the oldest one.

Thus they are initiated into their new life as rebels. Bound to the cause by a terrible cocktail of guilt, fear and violence.

Corpses in the undergrowth

Our helicopter touched down in a village which had been taken over as a forward base for the Ugandan army.

The helicopter could get no nearer and we had to cover the remaining four kilometres on foot.

And then we arrived at the site of the battle.

It was a scene of terrible carnage. Dozens of bodies lay scattered around the undergrowth where they had fallen.

The first body I saw, the first of these 55 dead rebels, was about four-years-old.

Almost certainly he had been born in captivity - probably, like so many others, the product of a forced marriage between an older rebel and a young abducted girl.

Some 10 metres away, just such a girl lay, dead, stripped to the waist. She may have been the child's mother.

Rag-tag force

In the shade of a clump of trees was another group of corpses - a couple of kids, barely teenagers, an older man and a couple of women.

One of the women was huddled against a tree, clutching it as if for protection, her head bowed.

She looked as though she was still alive, until I walked round and from the other side I could see the top two-thirds of her head had gone, blown away by rockets from one of the Ugandan army's new helicopter gunships.

This, I was told, was the group which had been sitting with Vincent Otti, deputy commander of this brutal rag-tag army of stolen children.

According to survivors, he had been injured in the attack and carried away into the bush on a stretcher.

The other dead woman in this group was, I was told, one of Vincent Otti's wives. His three-year-old daughter had been found alive, wandering through the carnage.

'Awful war'

We were moving quickly through the bodies - the area was not entirely safe - when I heard a soldier say: "This one's alive!"

He was a boy, of fighting age certainly ¬ so perhaps 14.

He was lying semi-conscious, his chest shuddering. He had lain there, unattended, for nearly 24 hours.

"Can't we get medical attention for him?" I asked. "We will carry him back and treat him," I was told.

But then five minutes later a soldier brought the news he was dead.

"Too bad ," said Lt Col Otema. "But at least you know we wanted to rescue him."

This is, truly, an awful war.

Few would deny that military action is needed to contain the LRA and protect local people - but in that bloody battlefield near Sudan, it was equally clear to me that the price of a purely military solution is unacceptably high.

It is very difficult to defend the slaughter of four-year-olds in the cause of peace.

Serious international pressure might force both sides into peace negotiations ¬ but it has been slow in coming.

Last year the LRA abducted 9,000 young people.

It is tempting to think that if they had been stealing oil rather than children, the rest of the world would have paid more attention.


Hilary Andersson, “Secrets of Zimbabwe camps exposed,” BBC News, 6 March 2004.

Hilary Andersson spent months interviewing young rapists and torturers for a BBC investigation which revealed the brutal secrets of Zimbabwe's training camps.

This job is a steady diet of wars, death at close range, natural disasters that make the earth shake, or that cause liquid fire to spew from mountains, planes that fall out of the skies, diseases that kill millions and meetings with individuals at the heart of unspeakable tragedies.

But never before have I spent months sitting in front of young people who have tortured, raped, beaten their relatives and who speak of it quite matter-of-factly.

Not that the youths who had been in Zimbabwe's camps were happy to speak to us.

In fact it was very difficult to persuade most of them to do so.

They were terrified of being recognised by their victims if we filmed them, or of being sent back to Zimbabwe and punished for speaking out about the camps.

Coy at first

But after months of work, we convinced many that we could be trusted to disguise their faces, and sometimes voices, and they agreed to be filmed.

Several of the boys who raped in the camps were coy at first when talking to me about it.

To get them to relax about the subject I was friendly and open - and acted as if it was a normal thing to be discussing.

Like talking about, you know, a bad day you had at school once.

Two of the rapists' reactions stick in my mind. When they started talking - in separate interviews - they both looked at the floor not at me.

When I asked them if they too had raped they both hesitated, then laughed and said yes.

When eventually I went further and asked them how they felt about it, they seemed both proud and a little embarrassed at the same time.

Both confessed they had quite enjoyed it because they could have the pick of the girls.

Then there were those who had tortured.

Several young men took me through the techniques of electrical torture and how it worked.

Once in the flow of the conversation it was as if they were trying to explain to me something as mundane and technical as how a car works.

"You connect this here, and that there," they would say. "Then you apply the wires to the person's genitals or arms in short bursts."

One boy went into a lot of detail about how to hang someone upside down and dunk their head in a bucket of water.

Smile politely

The strangest part, as the journalist, comes not when you ask the questions, or even when you get the answers, but when you say goodbye.

What do you say? Thank you? That was an excellent interview?

As much as your emotions are circling darkly in your head, you do find yourself shaking their hand, the hand of the rapist and the hand of the torturer.

You smile politely, and go home your mind spinning.

And it goes further. You feel revolted by them on the one hand, but also you feel sorry for some of them.

Not the boys I described above, because some of them are unremorseful thugs.

But others committed atrocities out of fear and their lives have been ruined.

One day during the filming, I phoned a girl who we had interviewed the day before and I got her voicemail.

In her message she had a sweet voice, high pitched and gentle like that of an innocent teenager.

In fact she had helped beat to death an old lady with a walking stick.

Now the girl is HIV positive. Like so many who have left the camps, she had been repeatedly raped.

'Rapists of the truth'

Zimbabwe's government is absolutely outraged at our report.

The state newspaper has called it abominable, malicious, inaccurate, odious, criminal, ignorant, misguided. They have called the BBC rapists of the truth.

They say we are involved in a conspiracy to undermine Robert Mugabe.

And they say the camps are there to instil discipline and a sense of national pride into young Zimbabweans.

It will be interesting to see if they allow international investigators into the camps.

Unfortunately some of the spin-off stories written by other media organisations have misquoted our findings in their hunt for a snazzy headline.

We have no evidence that 12-year-olds are taught to torture, nor that anyone in the camps is taught to rape.

Our wording has been very specific.

The camps contain youths as young as 12. Almost everyone we spoke to who had been in the camps had been taught to beat and maim.

Most had been taught to kill.

Those we came across who had been taught to torture were all youths, rather than children.

Rape is encouraged, in the testimonies we heard, not taught.

Our evidence is based on cataloguing the testimonies, gathered by ourselves and human rights groups, of almost 100 youths who had been in the camps, and building up a picture of what happens inside.

We chose not to broadcast interviews with many individuals, who claimed they had killed and raped but whose stories were inconsistent.

Mugabe is not Hitler. He may not be involved in genocidal activities at the moment.

But he is a man whose government has killed thousands before for its political ends and once again he is using abhorrent methods to try to stay on in power.


The Global Persecution of Women