The Pope condemned the use of 300,000 children in 36 wars by both regular armies and paramilitary groups, particularly in the "forgotten conflicts" fought in 30 countries. Colombia, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Somalia, Burundi and Congo (which alone has around 150,000 child-soldiers) were specifically cited.
While often used as porters, spies, messengers, lookouts or for menial labor, unscrupulous leaders have found that once separated from their families, child-soldiers aged 7 to 17 are easier to subvert into brutal killers. The children's sense of right-and-wrong simply hasn't had the time to be ingrained enough to stand up against the influences of adult tormentors.
These child-soldiers are often used as sacrificial pawns. In some cases, they are forced to go ahead of older (more experienced, more valuable) troops and open paths in mined areas. These children are caught between a rock and a hard place, as much victims (usually because they were kidnapped and/or forced to serve) as perpetrators of war crimes. Using children as combatants also adds to difficulty in post-conflict reconstruction (which relies on future generations), since children also suffer heavily even when they're not actively involved in the fighting. According to a UN report, two million children have died and four million have been severely disabled in wars fought over the past decade.
The Lancet medical journal released a study on March 26, based on discussions with 301 former child warriors in Uganda. Of those, 70 were suffering post-traumatic stress symptoms. An accompanying Lancet editorial urging the UN Security Council to take stronger action against groups that recruit child soldiers.
On the 25th, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said told the Security Council that abundant arms combined with the use of child soldiers and cross-border mercenaries are top concerns for West Africa. He stressed that a regional approach was needed to solve the problems. - Adam Geibel
Human Rights Watch "Stop the use of Child Soldiers!", online at:
IRIN Web Special on child soldiers, online at: