Use and Recruitment of Child Soldiers

The Army arrives in the village and tells the people, “We need this many soldiers.”  Boys between the ages of 12 and 15 are obliged to join. They are called bandios and their job is to make tea, find water, collect firewood, mind the goats. It is forced recruitment. They don’t want to join, but they are obliged to. Their parents don’t want their children to join the army, because they know they are going to die. But they have no choice.
—Brigadier General, Chadian National Army39

Numbers and identification challenges

UNICEF is undertaking a census of the Chadian National Army (ANT),40 but any systematic effort to quantify the number of children under arms in Chad is difficult, as the majority of child soldiers come from rural areas where birth certificates are rarely issued.

In some instances apparently underage FUC soldiers seem to have been encouraged to lie about their age. For example, when asked by Human Rights Watch to state their age, four FUC soldiers whom we interviewed from the same unit, who appeared to be underage, said they were 18 years old and added that they were born in 1986 and had been with the FUC for 9 months.41 

The Chadian National Army

A brigadier general (general de brigade) in the ANT told Human Rights Watch that the recruitment of children into the government army takes place primarily in Salamat and Ouaddai regions in the east and in and around the town of Biltine, in Wadi Fira region in the northeast, both areas of the country where Chadian rebel activity has been aggressive in the past two years.42

According to another ANT officer who has conducted recruitment activities and is currently deployed with his troops in a frontline area of eastern Chad, civilians were recruited en masse from Zaghawa and Goran villages in Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti region in northern Chad in the fall of 2006,43 a time when government forces were suffering terrible battlefield losses.44 Recruits were collected and rapidly organized into units, issued uniforms and weapons, and folded into the concentric circles of defenders arrayed around N’Djamena. Children as young as 14 were incorporated into the armed forces as part of these hasty manpower drives.45 

In the face of international criticism, the Chadian government denied that children served in the ranks of the ANT; it added emphasis to its denials by jailing a local journalist who made assertions to the contrary.46In February 2007 a Chadian government official allowed only that “certain Chadians are very small” and suggested that any supposed child soldiers in the ANT were in fact “dwarves.”47 

ANT officers contacted by Human Rights Watch were more candid about the presence of children in the Chadian armed forces. According to a senior ANT officer who has deployed to frontline areas of eastern Chad, the ANT depends on a steady supply of child soldiers. “Child soldiers are ideal because they don’t complain, they don’t expect to be paid, and if you tell them to kill, they kill,” the officer said. “[President] Déby has trouble finding soldiers who are willing to fight for him, but children will do what they’re told.”48

Yielding to international pressure, particularly from France, the government of Chad signed an agreement with UNICEF on May 9, 2007, to begin the demobilization of child soldiers in ANT and ANT-integrated rebel forces (see below).49 Despite acknowledged government cooperation with efforts to demobilize child soldiers, three ANT sources told Human Rights Watch that there was a likelihood that many children would not be demobilized despite UNICEF’s efforts, 50 and one of these—an ANT officer who is involved in training new recruits—said that Chadian military personnel would seek to actively hold children outside of demobilization efforts. “Some of the child soldiers will be demobilized, but most will be hidden,” this source said. “They will be stationed on the front lines and other places that are off-limits.”51

Human Rights Watch has also learned that the Chadian government has held captured child soldiers suspected of insurgent activity in the same facilities as adult soldiers. FUC combatants freed from Chadian government detention in February and interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Guéréda reported that children as young as 13 had been held in the same facilities as adult detainees.52 On April 26, 2006, Human Rights Watch researchers noted children among an estimated 250 FUC rebels who were detained in a single walled compound with a dirt courtyard and two cell blocks at the Gendarmerie Nationale in N’Djamena.53


In March 2007 Human Rights Watch spoke with eight FUC rebels who said they were under the age of 18, and with another 11 soldiers who appeared to be under the age of 18, but either claimed to be older, declined to state their age, or were not asked to state their age.54

Children in the FUC play a direct role in combat operations. A 15-year-old FUC soldier recounted the day in February 2007 when his convoy was ambushed by Zaghawa paramilitary groups. “We came to a narrow passage between two rocky cliffs,” he said. “When our vehicles came through, [the Zaghawa paramilitaries] were ready. A shot went past me. There were gunshots, everyone was shooting, but I didn’t know what to do. My brother was shot in the calf, so I helped him.”55 Officials at Guéréda hospital reported that they have received FUC casualties who were obviously under the age of 18 and were clearly combatants.56

Though some child soldiers appear to join the FUC of their own accord, it is difficult to assert that they made free decisions given the lack of other options. Most child soldiers are poor and uneducated, and many were eager to escape difficult home environments. Above all, the climate of insecurity and armed violence led many children to conclude that it was safer to be with the FUC than in the countryside.

A 12-year-old FUC fighter from a village near Djimeze al-Hamra in eastern Dar Tama explained to us why he decided to become a rebel, in December 2006. “The village is not safe; it is better to go to war,” the boy said. “If my gun jams and I can’t clear it, I’ll give it to my grand-frere57 and he’ll clear it for me. If I go to war and I am killed, it is finished for me. If I kill my enemy, it is finished for him. I won’t wait in the village to die. I’m a man. I want to participate.”58

This boy was among several child soldiers in the FUC who told Human Rights Watch that they joined the rebel force to seek revenge after close family members or other civilians were killed by Zaghawa militias. Others have joined the rebels after having been displaced by militia violence. One apparently underage FUC rebel59 told Human Rights Watch that he joined the rebels after an attack on his village near Djimeze al-Hamra forced his family and many others from his village to take up residence in an encampment on the outskirts of Guéréda.

“The Tama were always being attacked, and we have to defend ourselves,” the boy said. “In order to get a rifle I had to join the FUC. If security returns, I’ll leave the FUC and go back to school.”60

A 62-year-old man from Barra, near Maraone, told Human Rights Watch that his 15-year-old son, along with three of his nephews ages 12, 15 and 16, had all gone to join the FUC, but that he was not frightened for them. “They’re doing what they want to do,” he said. “My son was studying and doing well at school; it’s not good that he has joined the rebels. But you can’t stop the children from joining. Their [Tama] brothers have been killed, and children’s hearts hurt just like adults’ do.”61

While it is clear that insecurity has inspired children to seek protection in the FUC, it is equally clear that the FUC actively recruits children.

Human Rights Watch has documented the forced recruitment by the Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et la Liberté(Rally for Democracy and Freedom, RDL), a precursor group to the FUC, in Tama areas of Darfur in late 2005.62 A FUC colonel who was captured in fighting in N’Djamena on April 13, 2006, told an African Union monitoring team that the FUC recruited children as young as 12 years old, and several other prisoners said they had been forcibly recruited from refugee camps in Darfur.63 The UN reported a May 2006 incident of the forced recruitment of a Tama child in Geneina, West Darfur, although this did not specifically implicate the FUC.64

The recruitment risk has apparently been increased by the December 2006 peace accord between the Chadian government and the FUC. Sources in the FUC and the Chadian military report that the FUC was required to contribute between 6,000 and 7,000 soldiers to the ANT under the terms of a confidential annex to the peace accord.65 However, military analysts familiar with the situation in Chad believe that the FUC numbered no more than 1,200 to 1,500 when the December accord was signed,66 putting pressure on the FUC to fill out its ranks, and putting children at increased risk of recruitment.

“FUC is doing heavy recruitment,” said an international humanitarian observer with knowledge of the situation in Dar Tama. “Nour moved soldiers from Guéréda to Mongo to decrease his force strength in Dar Tama,67 but the ones who left have been replaced by others.”68

School records examined by Human Rights Watch at the Lycee de Guéréda, the lone secondary school in the Guéréda area, revealed that 80 percent of the boys who completed the 2006 school year did not enroll in school when classes resumed in the spring of 2007.69 Whereas 300 students completed the 2006 school year, only 180 students showed up for classes at the start of the 2007 school year, the vast majority of them girls and young boys, prompting one parent to describe it as a “girl’s school.”70 One observer interviewed by Human Rights Watch who asked that he not be identified for fear of FUC retaliation said the absences were easy to explain: the boys had left to join the rebels.

“Some boys from the 2006 school year came back, but after the holidays most of them didn’t come back,” the man said. “The boys all signed up for the military—they joined their brothers with the FUC.”71

One 16-year-old FUC member told Human Rights Watch that he was motivated to join the FUC because of the money promised by a FUC recruiter. “They said that when the FUC came to power, I could make enough money to buy a car,” the boy said. 72 

While insecurity persists in eastern Chad, children may be prone to re-recruitment as soldiers, particularly those older children whose self-conception has been altered by their participation in hostilities. Some child soldiers in Guéréda adopt exaggerated postures of adulthood, smoking cigarettes and drinking millet beer to excess, driving recklessly and pushing the limits of the power that comes with a Kalashnikov. Celebratory gunfire is a regular feature of life in Guéréda,73 and child soldiers are among the most enthusiastic followers of FUC commanders such as General Gok. One 15-year-old child soldier with the FUC who said he had experienced combat told Human Rights Watch that he had nightmares, but he insisted with bravado that they were not a result of his involvement with the FUC: “Everyone has nightmares, but I am crying because of what the Zaghawa [militias] are doing to my [Tama] people.”

Girls in the FUC forces

Although women and girls are not frequently seen in the ranks of armed groups in Chad, the FUC’s 3rd Brigade is entirely female, comprised of 52 women and girls. According to a 17-year-old member from the town of Hille Andjille, near the Chad-Sudan border, training for women and girls in the FUC lasts for two years, while the training for men lasts six months.74  None of the four 3rd Brigade soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch were armed. The brigade’s commanding officer said that female FUC soldiers had participated in operations against ANT forces in late 2006, though she was not able to provide specifics.75 Human Rights Watch received no reports of sexual exploitation of 3rd Brigade soldiers by male soldiers in other brigades.  Many of the women and girls in the 3rd Brigade had joined the FUC either because they had been raped or feared that they would be raped.

“The girls come to us because they know they Zaghawa can’t come to the FUC base,” said the brigade’s commanding officer, a 33-year-old colonel who says she joined the rebels after she was tortured by a Zaghawa militia in 2003 and left hanging from a tree, leaving her arms and legs criss-crossed with scars.76 One 17-year-old soldier from the 3rd Brigade said she joined the FUC along with six other girls from her village in late 2006 after members of a Zaghawa militia raped two girls from her village, including her 10-year-old cousin. “Two men raped her and two men were holding her down and her hip came out,” she said. “Afterward she didn’t say anything to anyone except that the Zaghawa took her and that her leg was dislocated. She got no medical treatment and her leg still falls out to the side when she walks. After they did that she was afraid. She had to wait for a couple of months until she could walk, and then she joined the FUC. She didn’t come for revenge, she came purely out of fear.”77

39 Human Rights Watch interview, location confidential, March 2007.

40 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with UNICEF official, Chad, June 22, 2007.

41 This response is all the more bewildering considering that someone born in 1986 would be 21 years old in 2007. Human Rights Watch interviews with FUC soldiers, Guéréda, Chad, March 16, 2007.

42 Human Rights Watch interview, location confidential, March 2007.

43 Human Rights Watch interviews, March 13 and 24, 2007.

44 The ANT suffered bloody defeats in Am Timan, Modoyna, and Adé. “Chad: Fighting On Two Fronts in Chaotic East,” IRIN, October 30, 2006, (accessed June 25, 2007); Human Rights Watch, They Came Here to Kill Us, pp. 60, 61.

45 Human Rights Watch interview with ANT officer involved in September recruitment drive, confidential location, Chad, March 31, 2007.

46 In October 2006 Evariste Ngaralbaye, a Chadian journalist, was detained for four days by the national section for judicial research (SNRJ) of the N'Djamena gendarmerie; the state prosecutor explained that Ngaralbaye was detained in conjunction with an article that he had written about child soldiers in Chad. See “Chad: Police Hold Journalist in Custody for Reporting on Child Soldiers in Conflict Zones,” Reporters sans Frontiers, October 30, 2006, (accessed May 14, 2007).

47 “Enfants soldats: le sujet n’est plus tabou,” Radio France Internationale, May 10, 2007, (accessed June 29, 2007).

48 Human Rights Watch interview with ANT officer, Abéché, Chad, April 1, 2007.

49 “Chad Demobilizes Child Soldiers,” BBC News Online, May 9, 2007, (accessed May 14, 2007).

50 Information on the use and recruitment of child soldiers in the ANT was provided by three confidential ANT sources, a colonel, a major, and a general. The remits of these sources (at the Ministry of Defense, at an ANT training camp, and with frontline troops) put each in a position to have first-hand knowledge of the government’s use and recruitment of child soldiers.

51 Human Rights Watch interview with senior ANT officer, confidential location, Chad, March 10, 2007.

52 Human Rights Watch interviews, Guéréda, March 15, 2007.

53 Human Rights Watch, N’Djamena, April 26, 2006.

54 Usually in situations where Human Rights Watch was speaking to a group of soldiers.

55 Human Rights Watch interview with FUC soldier, Guéréda, Chad, March 16, 2007.

56 Human Rights Watch interviews, Guéréda hospital, March 22, 2007. Hospital records are incomplete and do not reflect the age of those admitted beyond the age of five years.

57 Literally meaning older brother, used figuratively here to mean someone older in age. 

58 Human Rights Watch interview with FUC soldier, Guéréda, Chad, March 16, 2007.

59 The soldier told Human Rights Watch he was not sure of his exact age—not uncommon in rural areas of eastern Chad, though it is also possible the soldier deliberately withheld this information.

60 Human Rights Watch interview with FUC soldier, Guéréda, Chad, March 18, 2007.

61 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, March 17, 2007.

62 Six out of seven RDL prisoners interviewed said they had been forcibly recruited in Sudan. The seventh said he had joined the rebels voluntarily. Human Rights Watch interviews with RDL prisoners, Adré hospital, Adré, Chad, January 19, 2006.

63 “Chad rebel prisoners say Sudan recruited them,” Reuters, April 23, 2006, (accessed July 9, 2007).

64 The UN has documented the abduction of a 17-year-old Tama boy by Chadian rebels from Geneina on May 24, 2006, though this does not necessarily implicate the FUC. United Nations Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Sudan,” S/2006/662, August 17, 2006, (accessed June 29, 2007), p. 7.

65 Human Rights Watch interviews with FUC sources and Western intelligence officials, February to June 2007.

66 Human Rights Watch interviews with Western intelligence officials, Chad and Washington DC, March and June, 2007.

67 This was likely done under pressure from the Chadian Ministry of Defense, in the interest of neutralizing the FUC as a military threat.

68 Human Rights Watch interview, March 1, 2007. Approximately 80 percent of the FUC was obliged to leave Dar Tama for training at Mongo in February 2007.

69 School records inspected by Human Rights Watch on March 23, 2007.

70 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, March 17, 2007.

71 Human Rights Watch interview with confidential source, Chad, March 2007.

72 Human Rights Watch interviews with FUC fighters, Guéréda, Chad, March 17, 2007. One child soldier at the Koundoul transit camp reported that he had been promised 250,000 CFA (approximately US$500) for joining the FUC, and others reported that they were induced to join the FUC by the promise of a job, power, and prestige. Human Rights Watch has no information on what, if anything, child soldiers with the FUC were actually paid.

73 Of the celebratory gunfire, one Zaghawa man in Guéréda said, “The era of the FUC will soon be over, because they are almost out of ammunition.” Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, March 30, 2007.

74 Human Rights Watch interview with FUC soldier, March 17, 2007.

75 Human Rights Watch interview with FUC soldier, March 17, 2007.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with FUC soldier, March 17, 2007.

77 Human Rights Watch interview with FUC soldier, March 17, 2007.