A report published by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers noted that in around 86 countries, even today, children (under 18) are recruited in military and engage in hostilities of different types (Child Soldiers Global report 2008).
It includes unlawful recruitment by armed groups, forcible recruitment by government forces, recruitment or use of children by militias or other groups associated with armed forces, their use as spies, as well as legal recruitment into peacetime armies.
The Coalition considers a ‘child soldier any person below the age of 18 who is a member of or attached to government armed forces or any other regular or irregular armed force or armed political group, whether or not an armed conflict exists. Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including: participation in combat; laying mines and explosives; scouting, spying, acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training, drill or other preparations; logistics and support functions, portering, cooking and domestic labour. Child soldiers may also be subjected to sexual slavery or other forms of sexual abuse’ (Child Soldiers Global report 2008).
The countries where children are actively involved in armed conflict either by state or non-state military groups include Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, CÃ´te d’Ivoire, the DRC, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda.
Engaging children by government forces is rampant in countries like Myanmar, Chad, the DRC, Somalia, Sudan/Southern Sudan and Uganda.
The long history of military government in Myanmar has blocked the country’s development to a large extent. Socially also, there are unchecked setbacks which have been pulling the country down. A report published by Human Rights Watch in 2002 stated that any boy can be taken by the state army in Myanmar to work as soldier. They can be as little as 10 years old. Evidence shows that those boys are beaten severely if they are unable to work properly. They are engaged for pillaging the poor villagers, to steal chicken and other food stuff from villages, to work as spies and sometimes in armed conflict. In return, they are not provided with enough food, medical care and other living stipulations. Their salary is subject to random deduction for petite reasons. They are not allowed to visit their homes.
The report, My Gun is As Tall As Me: Child Soldiers in Burma, says that even the opposition groups employ children though in far fewer numbers. Some children join opposition groups to take revenge for past abuses by Burmese forces against members of their families and communities. Additionally, sometimes they are forcefully enlisted into the armed groups. Many children participate in armed conflicts without or with little training and after years of being a soldier they are unable to imagine a future for themselves apart from military services.
Several instances can be put here where children are engaged in conflicts in our beloved India. Human Rights Watch has recently published a report on children’s involvement in the naxalite movement going around Chhattisgarh. Children are involved in Bal Sangam (village level children associations) by the naxalites and then according to their skills they are recruited in other agencies like Sangam (village level associations) or Chaitanya Natya Manch (street theatre troupes) or Jan Militia (armed informers) or in the main squads. Though such recruitments are not forceful, the naxalite leaders keep influencing parents to send their children into Bal Sangam constantly (Dangerous Duty: Children and the Chhattisgarh Conflict 2008).
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (Optional Protocol) is regarded the most defined prohibition of child soldiers under international law and 131 countries have ratified it. The Red Hand Campaign has been now pressing for universal ratification of the Protocol in order to prevent children from involvement in conflicts worldwide. On the other hand, the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Pornography, and Child Prostitution has been ratified by 137 states. On 25th May 2010 both these treaties have entered 10 years of existence after their foundation by the United Nations.
What needs to be remembered is that though two-third of the world has ratified The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, children’s involvement in armed conflict situations still exists largely and widely. Hence, governments should be proactive to completely abolish this evil from our beautiful earth together with civil rights, human rights and child rights organizations.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.