On the 8th of February 2016, Unicef United Kingdom released a new report on child soldiers, entitled 'Ending the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict'. In this report, the children’s rights organization expresses its concern on the continued recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts, and puts forward a set of policy recommendations to follow in order to tackle this serious exploitation more efficiently.
Substantial progress has been made in dealing with this issue since the publication of the influential report “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children” in 1996. On this year’s International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, observed on the 12th of February, the international community celebrated the release of more than 10,000 child soldiers in 2015, secured by Unicef and its partners.
Nevertheless, Unicef points out that, worldwide, tens of thousands of children are still being recruited by state and non-state actors alike. More specifically, it is estimated that youth under the age of 18 make up a considerable part of the members of at least 49 armed groups and 7 government security forces, including those of Afghanistan, South Sudan, the DRC and Yemen.
The report distinguishes three main areas in which further progress is indispensable against the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Firstly, Unicef recommends governments to strengthen the preventative framework by introducing measures such as the better protection of schools, universal birth registration and the adoption and implementation of legislation to prevent child recruitment.
Secondly, it advocates for the speedier release of child soldiers. States should take every opportunity to liberate enlisted youth, even if a ceasefire or peace agreement is still lacking. Once underage boys and girls have escaped or have been released from an armed group or state force, more should be done to reintegrate them into their community as soon as they are released, especially in terms of availability of long-term funding.
Finally, Unicef urges governments to reinforce peace-building efforts with a strong focus on reconciliation and transitional justice aspects.
The IJJO commends the publication of this latest report and supports Unicef in its efforts to stop the military conscription of any person under the age of 18. The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict constitutes a serious human rights violation, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols.
Photo credit: Unicef/UNI202923/Holt