March 12, 2012

Around the globe, Human Rights Watch has documented the recruitment and use of children as soldiers. Today, child soldiers are fighting in at least 14 countries:

Afghanistan – Insurgent groups, including the Taliban and other armed groups, use children as fighters, including in suicide attacks. The UN also reports recruitment of children by the Afghan National Police.

Burma – Thousands of boys serve in Burma’s national army, with children as young as 11 forcibly recruited off the streets and sent into combat operations. Children also serve with some of the armed ethnic opposition groups. Read more in our report, "Sold to be Soldiers."

Central African Republic Hundreds of children, some as young as 12, serve with various rebel groups. The Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted children in the southeast of the country. 

Chad – Thousands of children have served in both government and rebel forces in Chad. In 2011 the government signed an action plan to end its use of child soldiers and recruitment has decreased sharply. Read more in our report, "Early to War."

Colombia Thousands of children—both boys and girls—serve in Colombia’s irregular armed groups. The majority serve in the FARC guerrillas, with smaller numbers in the UC-ELN guerrillas. Children are also recruited into successor groups to paramilitaries. Read more in our report, "You’ll Learn Not to Cry."

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – Children serve in the government armed forces as well as various rebel forces. At the height of DRC’s war, the UN estimated that more than 30,000 boys and girls were fighting with various parties to the conflict. Most have now been released or demobilized, but active recruitment continues in the east of the country. The Lord’s Resistance Army also abducts children in northeastern Congo. It uses both boys and girls as fighters, and girls as sex slaves. Read more in our report, "Trail of Death."

India – MaoistNaxalite” rebels in Chhattisgarh use children as soldiers. The Maoists induct children as young as six into children’s associations and use children as young as 12 in armed squads that receive weapons training and may participate in armed encounters with government security forces.   Read more in our report, "Dangerous Duty."

Iraq – Al-Qaeda recruits children to spy, scout, transport military supplies, plant explosive devices, and actively participate in attacks against security forces and civilians, including suicide attacks.

Philippines – Children are recruited by rebel forces, including the New People’s Army, Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Philippines army has fabricated stories that children taken into custody are rebel “child warriors.” Read more in our latest press release.

Somalia – The Islamist armed group al-Shabaab forcibly recruits children as young as 10, often abducting them from their homes or schools. Some are coerced into becoming suicide bombers. Children also serve in Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces. Read more in our report, "No Place for Children."

South Sudan – The South Sudan government has pledged to end its use of child soldiers, but continues to recruit children and has not yet demobilized all children from its forces.

Sudan – In Darfur, over a dozen armed forces and groups use child soldiers, including the Sudanese Armed Forces, pro-government militias, and factions of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army.

Thailand Separatist insurgents called Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani (Patani Freedom Fighters) have recruited hundreds of ethnic Malay Muslim children as messengers, couriers, scouts, and in some cases, combatants, in the insurgency in Thailand’s southern border provinces. The National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate (BRN-C) has systematically recruited children and used them to support armed attacks. 

Yemen – Government forces have recruited children as young as 14. Prior to the Arab Spring, the government used children in its armed forces to fight Huthi rebels in the north, who also used children. In 2011, rebel forces in Taizz deployed children to patrol roads and operate checkpoints. Some had previously served with government forces before defecting. Read more in our latest press release.