Children in Combat

Throughout the world, thousands of children are used as soldiers in armed conflicts. Although international law forbids recruiting children under fifteen as soldiers, such young children may be found in government armies and, more commonly, in armed rebel groups. Armed forces, both governmental and non-governmental, often claim that the children in their camps are there for their own protection and welfare. In fact, however, the involvement of the children in the conflict puts them in grave danger and is detrimental to their physical and mental health and development. This report concerns the ways in which children are recruited, the possible reasons for their recruitment and participation, the roles children play in combat and in violence against civilians, and their treatment by the groups that recruit them. It does not deal with all of the countries in which child soldiers are used, but only with countries in which Human Rights Watch has investigated the practice. Legal standards for the prevention of the recruitment of children and problems in applying and enforcing them are covered as well.