Substantial evidence supports the existence of children soldiers as reports trigger more profound insights into the lifetime of pain and suffering that they are forced to endure. They are termed ‘maggots’ in Mogadishu and ‘little bees’ in Columbia. ‘Kony 2012’, a video released by Invisible Children hit over 80 million views within a fortnight and blew the whistle on the plight of children soldiers being mutilated, kidnapped and forcefully taken into war in central African states (Lasley & Thyne, 2015). Figures estimate that between 200,000 to 300,000 children were used by government and rebel organizations operating in Syria to aid in the ongoing armed conflict. Children as young as 16 years have been used to win wars of conquest.
Rebels who seek the help of children in combat are either secessionist of those intending to overthrow governments. While most children are forcefully taken into war, others are left with no choice after experiencing poverty and lack of employment. Children from low-income families are therefore at a higher risk of being recruited than those from well-off families. While some revel groups use children, a good number do not believe in the absorption of children soldiers. Lasley & Thyne (2015) noted that the Ogaden National Liberation, for instance, does not recruit children soldiers. The Taliban exercises very little recruitment of children soldiers and liberation groups in Palestine do not recruit children under 18 years old to serve as suicide bombers. Notwithstanding, the decision not to work with children is never in good faith but in consideration of their ability to help in correctly executing tasks that are key to the achievement of set goals.
Scholars have neglected the use of the girl child in war due to the old perception that war is a man’s business. Nonetheless, Haer & Böhmelt (2018) revealed that 40% of non-state groups armed in combat, consist of girls. While in battle, the experiences of girl child soldiers are bitter and more painful than that of their male counterparts. They receive poor healthcare, and little food and their gender make them more vulnerable to harsher abuse such as defilement by male soldiers. The international community does not understand well the role of girls in these conquests, and as a result, low-quality data has often been collected regarding their experiences. Since they are used as sex toys in war camps, they suffer from stigma in the aftermath of these rebellions.
When fighting was brought to an end in Mozambique, boys were rehabilitated in demobilization camps while girls were forgotten. In about 32 states, girl child soldiers were used in armed conflicts. Mazurana & McKay (2001) reported that the use of young girls in war remained a virgin idea such that in the Mozambican civil war, the number of girls kidnapped and those who returned home was not determined. As boy soldiers boarded for home, girl soldiers were simply left on the roadside. They ended up either homeless, in wrong destinations, lost assaulted, defiled or killed. Current disarmament and demobilization programs alienate girls. Children, including girls, have been taken from orphanages in Sri Lanka and used to fill ranks. Some are gang possessed and get involved willingly so that they receive protection, food and shelter from the warring groups.
Even though some studies might refute the validity of these findings, evidence of serving children soldiers and the effects war on the children cannot be overemphasized. About 250,000 children across the globe serve as soldiers. In a study of Ugandan children soldiers, Bayer, Klasen, & Adam (2007) reiterate the evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder as a health effect manifesting in more than 95% of all participants. PTSD has been associated with the development of revenge-seeking attitudes and unwillingness to reconcile. The international community supports the need to protect children soldiers but partly blames them for their actions. Article 1F (a) of the Refugee Convention is meticulous in providing protection to child refugees involved in international crimes. The 2007 Paris Principles seeks the protection of child soldiers and is currently endorsed by 105 states, but children are still being denied refugee protection under provisions of Article 1F (a) (Bond & Krech, 2016). Nonetheless, children are more vulnerable during armed conflicts and are not to blame for the circumstances surrounding their disobedience. The loss of family members and lack of basic needs affect their ability to cope with conflict.
Bayer, C. P., Klasen, F., & Adam, H. (2007). Association of trauma and PTSD symptoms with openness to reconciliation and feelings of revenge among former Ugandan and Congolese child soldiers. Jama, 298(5), 555-559.
Bond, J., & Krech, M. (2016). Excluding the most vulnerable: application of Article 1F (a) of the Refugee Convention to child soldiers. The International Journal of Human Rights, 20(4), 567-588.
Haer, R., & Böhmelt, T. (2018). Girl soldiering in rebel groups, 1989–2013: Introducing a new dataset. Journal of Peace Research, 55(3), 395-403.
Lasley, T., & Thyne, C. (2015). Secession, legitimacy and the use of child soldiers. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 32(3), 289-308.
Mazurana, D., & McKay, S. (2001). Child Soldiers; What about the Girls?. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 57(5), 30-35.