Human Rights News

Worldwide Use of Child Soldiers Continues Unabated

Sharp Increase in Children Fighting in Conflicts Across Africa

(New York, January 16, 2004) -- Children continued to be used as soldiers, sexual slaves, laborers, porters and spies throughout 2003 in both newly erupting and longstanding armed conflicts, according to a report released ahead of the United Nations Security Council's fourth open debate on children and armed conflict.

" Although the United Nations has clearly identified violators, the recruitment and use of child soldiers persist all around the world. The Security Council needs to hold the violators accountable and demand concrete progress in ending the abuse. "
Jo Becker, Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch
The report, released today by The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, details evidence of governments and armed groups recruiting and using child soldiers in a number of conflicts worldwide. The Coalition, which was founded in 1998 by Human Rights Watch and seven leading nongovernmental organizations, calls for action by the U.N. Security Council to insist upon—and enforce—an end to child recruitment.  
"Although the United Nations has clearly identified violators, the recruitment and use of child soldiers persist all around the world," said Jo Becker, the child rights advocate for Human Rights Watch and the founding chairperson of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. "The Security Council needs to hold the violators accountable and demand concrete progress in ending the abuse."  
The 50-page report, "Child Soldier Use 2003", is intended to help the Security Council formulate concrete solutions during its annual debate on children and armed conflict, which is scheduled for January 20. As a result of last year's debate, the Council requested a progress report on parties violating international laws prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and stated that it would consider additional steps against parties that fail to show progress.  
The Coalition report identifies 18 different countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East where child soldier issues remain part of the gross abuse of human rights in an armed conflict or its aftermath.  
The Coalition's report provides evidence that in many conflicts—such as Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—a massive increase in recruitment occurred during 2003. Horrifying reports emerged from the DRC of children forced to commit atrocities, rape and sexual torture. Abductions of children in northern Uganda by the Lord's Resistance Army are at the highest point of  
the conflict's 17-year history. Thousands of children in northern Uganda continue to flee their homes at night to avoid being abducted into brutal combat and servitude.  
In Burma there was little if any progress in ending child soldiering, with an estimated 70,000 children in the government armed forces. Exiled children told of being abducted by government forces and taken to military camps where they were subject to beatings, forced labor and combat. Recent reports from Colombia reveal that the number of children used by armed groups has increased to around 11,000 in recent years, with children as young as 12 trained and deployed to use explosives and weapons. In Sri Lanka the forced conscription of children by the armed opposition Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) continues, despite the armed group's pledges to demobilize children from their ranks.  
The Coalition recommends that U.N. Security Council members should:
  • Request the Secretary-General to compile an annual, updated list of all parties to armed conflict that recruit or use child soldiers;
  • Follow up on this list by asking those parties using child soldiers to provide—within 90 days—information on steps they are taking to end recruitment and use of child soldiers;
  • Designate a U.N. representative to conduct talks with those parties using child soldiers, and to assist them in developing action plans with them to end such practices;
  • Verify whether these armed groups and armed forces are implementing such action plans;
  • End flows of weapons, particularly small arms, to those recruiting and using children; and
  • Use other means to enforce an international ban on child soldiering, such as placing travel restrictions on leaders using children in their armies, banning them from attending international events and organisations, ending military assistance to their governments or groups, and restricting the flow of financial resources to the parties concerned.
"Adopting resolution after resolution, all of which have failed to protect children from conflict, has created 'resolution fatigue' among governments at the United Nations and cynicism among the public," the Coalition's Casey Kelso said. "The United Nations should step up efforts to demand accountability by governments and groups using child soldiers. The Security Council should take steps to end flows of weapons to violators and should apply targeted sanctions to parties that fail to end their use of child soldiers."  
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers was founded by Amnesty International, Defence for Children International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation Terre des Hommes, International Save the Children Alliance, Jesuit Refugee Service, the Quaker United Nations Office-Geneva and World Vision International.