index  |  next>>


…the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.

Preamble, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted November 1989; entered into force September 1990

“One day, my friends and I were forced by our commanders to kill a family…I decided I had to flee and I ran away to the forest…but some soldiers found me and brought me back to a military camp. They imprisoned me and beat me every day…Today I am afraid. I don’t know how to read, I don’t know where my family is. I have no future…My life is lost…At night I can no longer sleep, I keep thinking of those horrible things I have seen and done as a soldier”.

“Kalami”, 15-year-old boy from the Democratic Republic of Congo who fought with various armed forces from the age of 9.1

“Seven weeks after I arrived there was combat…it was an attack on the paramilitaries. We killed about seven of them. They killed one of us. We had to drink their blood to conquer our fear. Only the scared ones had to do it. I was the most scared of all, because I was the newest and the youngest.”

“Adriana”, a Colombian girl recruited to the opposition Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). She was 12at the time of this incident 2

“…other trainees, if they were caught trying to run away their hands and feet were beaten with a bamboo stick, and then put in shackles and beaten and poked again and again, and then they were taken to the lock up”.

Boy from Myanmar abducted at age 13 by government forces.3

The above statements were drawn from reports received by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and its founding member organizations. They provide a horrifying reminder of the plight of children who continue to be used in armed conflict. Throughout 2003 thousands of children were deployed as combatants, to commit abuses against civilians, as sex slaves, forced labourers, messengers, informants and servants in continuing and newly erupting conflicts. Children were usually used to perform multiple roles, and girls in particular often acted as combatants as well as being sexually exploited.

In some cases, such as Cote d’Ivoire, parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Liberia, a massive increase in recruitment occurred during 2003. Horrifying reports emerged from the DRC of children forced to commit atrocities, of rape and sexual torture, and of constant beatings. Thousands of children in northern Uganda continued to flee their homes at night to avoid being abducted by the opposition Lord’s Resistance Army and forced into brutal combat and servitude. Yet the abductions continued. In Myanmar little if any progress was discerned, with an estimated 70,000 children in the government’s armed forces. Exiled children recounted being abducted by government forces while on the way to school and taken to military camps where they were subjected to beatings, forced labour and combat. Disturbing recent reports from Colombia revealed that the number of children used by armed groups has increased to around 11,000 in recent years, with children as young as 12 being trained and deployed to use explosives and weapons. In addition to involvement in combat, girls attached to Colombian armed groups have reported the enforced use of contraceptives and abortions, often after pressure to become the “girlfriend” of an adult soldier. In Sri Lanka the abduction of children by the armed opposition Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) reportedly continued unabated.

In all the conflicts children were forcibly recruited, sometimes in large numbers. Others enlisted voluntarily as a means of survival in war-torn regions after family, social and economic structures had collapsed. Many said they joined because of poverty, unemployment, or domestic violence, abuse or exploitation. Others reported enlisting after seeing family members tortured or killed by members of government forces or armed opposition groups.

In recent years progress has been made in developing a legal and policy framework for protecting children involved in armed conflict. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict, which came into force in February 2002, prohibits the direct use of any child under the age of 18 in armed conflict and prohibits all use of under-18s by non-state armed groups. By mid-December 2003, 67 states had ratified the Optional Protocol, including seven mentioned in this report.4 The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child had begun examining governments’ reports on steps taken to implement the Protocol. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) defines the recruitment of children under the age of 15 as a war crime. Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization (1999) defines child soldiering as one of the worst forms of child labour and prohibits the forced or compulsory recruitment of children under the age of 18 for use in armed conflict. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1999) establishes 18 as the minimum age for all compulsory military recruitment and participation in hostilities.

In 1999, the UN Security Council began to specifically address the protection of children in armed conflict. Since then member states and the international community at large have repeatedly condemned the “despicable and damaging practices”5 perpetrated against children during war. The UN has included child protection as an element of peacekeeping operations and has supported demobilization and reintegration programs for former child soldiers. A series of Security Council resolutions have sent a clear message: the targeting of children for violence or for use as soldiers is unacceptable and must be stopped.6

In November 2001, the Council took the unusual and unprecedented step of asking the Secretary General to compile a list of specific parties to armed conflict which were recruiting or using child soldiers in violation of their international obligations.7 After this list of violators was made public, the Security Council called in January 2003 for a further report on the parties’ progress in ending their recruitment or use of child soldiers, and agreed to consider additional appropriate steps against those who failed to show sufficient progress in ending these crimes.8

Yet, as this report shows, remarkably little progress has been made in ending the use of child soldiers and some violators have even increased their recruitment of children. This report contains updated information on the recruitment and use of child soldiers in 17 countries from January 2003—that is since the adoption of UN Resolution 1460—through September 2003. It includes a critical review of demobilization programs where they exist, and finds that girls continue to be overlooked and excluded from such programs. This briefing is by no means exhaustive. Available evidence suggests that children are being deployed in additional conflicts around the world.

The information contained in this report was compiled by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Some was drawn from research carried out by members of its international steering committee—organizations involved in research, advocacy and child protection programs internationally. Much of the detailed research was carried out by national Coalition members, individuals and organizations working in the countries involved. Information was also provided by former child soldiers.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers believes that determined action is needed by the Security Council to ensure that all parties to armed conflict involved in recruiting and using children are held accountable for their actions. Action must also be taken against those indirectly involved through tacit support for governments or armed groups, or via the provision of arms and financial assistance. This briefing has been prepared in advance of the UN Security Council’s fourth open debate on children and armed conflict. We hope it will serve to assist the Security Council and other UN member states in formulating a concerted strategy and the implementation of firm measures to stop the use of children in wars which threaten their life, survival and development in many countries across the world.

1 Democratic Republic of Congo: Children At War, Amnesty International, September 2003.

2 You’ll Learn Not to Cry: Child Combatants in Colombia, Human Rights Watch, September 2003.

3 Testimony received confidentially by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in August 2003.

4 The seven are: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

5 Taken from a statement by Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General at the UN Special Session on Children, May 2002.

6 These include Resolution 1265 on the Protection of Civilians (1999), Resolution 1314 on Children and Armed Conflict (2000), Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (2000), Resolution 1379 on Children and Armed Conflict (2001) and Resolution 1460 on Children and Armed Conflict (2003). To download texts visit

7 UN Resolution 1379, adopted 20 November 2001.

8 UN Resolution 1460, adopted 30 January 2003, paragraph 6.

index  |  next>>

January 2003