Human Rights Watch urged the president of Congo to immediately end a military recruitment drive targeting children as young as twelve years of age.
Human Rights Watch also urged rebel forces to refrain from recruitment of under-18's, and to demobilize all child soldiers who are already in their ranks.
Prior to taking power in 1996, thousands of children (known as "kadogo") were recruited into Kabila’s army. Many of these children continue to serve as soldiers in both rebel and government forces, and are also being mobilized as part of the current conflict.
International law prohibits the recruitment of any children under the age of 15, and an international consensus is building on behalf of prohibitions on any military recruitment below the age of 18. The U.N. Security Council recently expressed its grave concern at the harmful impact of armed conflict on children, and condemned the use of child soldiers. In a June 29 statement, the Council called upon all parties concerned to comply strictly with their obligations under international law.
"The use of child soldiers violates both international law and common standards of decency," said Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch. "President Kabila’s recruitment of children flies in the face of increasingly active efforts by the global community to end this reprehensible practice."
Recent international actions related to the use of child soldiers have included provisions in the new treaty establishing an International Criminal Court (ICC), and the launching of a new international campaign led by nongovernmental organizations to raise the minimum age for recruitment and participation in armed forces. Under the new ICC treaty drafted last month in Rome, the conscription and use in hostilities of children under the age of 15 is defined as a war crime to be prosecuted by the Court.
In late June, Human Rights Watch, together with Amnesty International and other leading international nongovernmental organizations, launched a new Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, which seeks stronger international standards to protect children from military recruitment and use in armed conflict. The Coalition seeks to raise the minimum age for military recruitment and participation in armed conflict from 15, set by existing international law, to 18.
The latest research on child soldiers estimates that more than 300,000 children under 18 years old are fighting in armed conflicts around the world. Although most recruits are over 15 years of age, significant recruitment starts at 10 years, and the use of even younger children has been recorded