In order reduce and eliminate the use of child soldiers, the problem must be addressed at multiple levels by a variety of programs. It is important that the United Nations, national governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals all work together to help end the use of child soldiers The government must address the problem by complying with international standards, such as the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the forced recruitment of children under 18 and sets 16 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment. A nation’s government must enforce standards such as these by passing similar laws and actively maintaining the provision of such standards.
Non-governmental organizations like UNICEF, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, and World Vision work to remove children from conflict and to assist them afterward. Once child soldiers are removed from the battlefield, they suffer from many ailments including disease and psychological disorders. Many programs exist to help former child soldiers rehabilitate, perhaps the most prominent of which being the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program developed by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The individual can help with the cause by donating to programs such as these, and also by increasing awareness of the use of child soldiers, signing petitions, and writing to political organizations.
Many kinds of international laws have been established to alleviate the use of child soldiers. It should be noted that although many of these conventions and declarations have been signed and ratified, they are not necessarily enforced sufficiently. The descriptions below offer no analysis of the efficiency of the laws, but are only a presentation of the ideas within the documents.
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (May 2000)
Perhaps the most significant step to ending the use of child soldiers is the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Optional Protocol (also called the Child Soldiers Protocol) is an optional extension to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which allows for children as young as 15 to participate in armed conflict. The new protocol defines a child as a person under 18, and makes it illegal for a child to be forcefully conscripted into the army or a non-governmental militant group. It establishes 16 as the minimum for voluntary recruitment, and requires parental consent and awareness of the duties of participation in the army for children between 18 and 16. Children under 18 are not to be involved in conflict directly. The convention mandates that governments take all measures to prevent the recruitment of children, including legal action. It also requires countries to submit a report documenting their efforts to execute the provisions in the protocol within two years of the ratification, and every five years thereafter.
Maputo Declaration on the Use of Children as Soldiers (April 1999)
The Maputo Declaration on the Use of Children as Soldiers is the result of the 1999 African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers. The Maputo Declaration states that “the use of any child under 18 years of age by any armed force or armed group is wholly unacceptable, even where that child claims or is claimed to be a volunteer.” It also calls for countries and militant groups to end their recruitment of children, demobilize current child recruits, establish rehabilitation programs for former child soldiers, create measures to prevent re-recruitment, and develop a system to verify a child’s age prior to recruitment, whether by birth documents or community elders. The declaration also recognizes the need for international media attention to both the declaration and child soldiers, and calls for other nations to support the declaration.
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (est. 1998, effective 2002)
The establishment of the International Criminal Court provided a place to try international crimes against humanity. One of the provisions of the court makes the recruitment of children under 15 a war crime. Under the court, it is also illegal for children to participate in conflict by serving as port keepers, delivering supplies, etc. In 2004, the court issued arrest warrants for Joseph Kony and other members of the Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army for numerous human rights violations, including the recruitment of child soldiers.
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (effective 1999)
The African Organization of African States, now the African Union (AU), developed the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in 1990. The charter unconditionally defines a child as someone under 18 years old, and requires all countries within the AU to take all measures necessary to prevent the in recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. In 1999, the charter came into action.
ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 182 (adopted 1999, effective Nov. 2000)
This convention is the first to include using child soldiers as a type of child labor, and makes the forced recruitment of children into an army illegal for ratifying nations. The convention is the first international treaty to define a child as someone under the age of 18 in regards to the use of child soldiers.
Additional Protocols to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 (1977)
The Geneva Conventions are internationally recognized as humanitarian law, established to protect the rights of those within countries at war. In 1977, additional protocol was added to the conventions, requiring all warring countries to take all measures to ensure children that under 15 are not recruited into the army.
The Paris Commitments and Principles (2007)
In February 2007, UNICEF and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers held an international conference in Paris, France to review the use of child soldiers. Representatives attended from 58 countries who assured an allegiance to the Paris Commitments and Paris Principles. The Paris Commitments outline already existing mechanisms pertaining to child soldiers; whereas, the Paris Principles “[set] forth a wide range of principles relating to the protection of children from recruitment or use in armed conflict, their release and successful reintegration into civilian life.” The Paris Principles also respect the need to prevent the use of child soldiers.
United Nations Security Council Resolutions (1999-2005)
The UN Security Council has passed multiple resolutions pertaining to child soldiers. The resolutions condemn the recruitment and use of child soldiers in armed conflict. These resolutions include Resolutions 1261 (1999), 1314 (2000) 1379 (2001), 1460 (2003), 1539 (2004), and 1612 (2005).
Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) Programs
DDR programs focus on addressing the needs of child soldiers as individuals and are encouraged by many organizations, including the United Nations and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The first part of DDR programs is disarmament, which involves removing weapons from combat zones. Disarmament usually encompasses the destruction or safe-storage of weapons and the development of arms management programs. The proliferation of small arms is a major contributor to the use of child soldiers, as the widespread availability, low price, and minimal weight of weapons such as AK-47s (which only cost about $6 in Africa) make them easy for young children to wield. Because of this, disarmament is a very important step in addressing the use of child soldiers.
The next step in DDR is demobilization, which is the removal of a child from an army. The first part of demobilization involves cooperating with the armed group to remove the child from its forces and to verify the child’s age. Proving a child’s age is complicated, as more than 40 million births occur without registration each year. This increases the ability of militant factions to keep children in their forces by wrongly claiming that a child is 18 or older. Once a child’s age is proven, the next steps are usually finding a child’s background information to make contact with the child’s family, assessing the child’s situation and organizing a list of priority issues, and informing the child of what is going to happen next.
The final part of the DDR process is reintegration, which is a long process designed to help children return to normal life in a community. Children are reunited with their family or other caretakers, given access to education and psychological care, and given an agenda for economic support. A lot of cultures have reintegration processes unique to their local community. Some communities ask former child soldiers to present a formal apology and request for forgiveness to community members. Many cultures also use traditional healing practices to reintegrate former child soldiers into their community. In Sierra Leone, girls who were involved in combat are cleansed with a traditional spiritual wash to heal the impurities caused by sexual abuse. Unfortunately, it is usually hard for girls to readjust to life in the community, for some members view them as being unclean because of sexual abuse. This highlights a greater issue, as some communities and family members will not accept former child soldiers back into their culture in lieu of their past actions.
The first step to dealing with any problem is recognizing the fact that there is a problem. That is the task groups and programs serve, but also a task that anyone reading this website can participate in. A combined effort is greater than a lonesome protest, and by spreading the word about child soldiers you can make a great difference.
What others are doing
Perhaps the most comprehensive database and website regarding child soldiers is that maintained by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The Coalition has helped organize and provided information for a variety of conventions, including the 2007 “Free children from war” conference in Paris. Its website offers detailed reports on countries using child soldiers and is up to date with the latest information regarding child soldiers. The Coalition also offers many other resources relevant to ending the use of child soldiers.
Following the documentary entitled “Invisible Children,” created by three young American adults, was the establishment of several other Invisible Children initiatives. The Invisible Children movements are focused on the Lord’s Resistance Army’s use and abduction of children in Northern Uganda in the midst of a 20 year war. Among the efforts put forth by the documentary’s creators are Schools for Schools, a program that helps students to form clubs to raise money for a partner school in Uganda. Funds pay for the refurbishment of the war torn school, teachers, books, computers, and other educational supplies. Additionally, the Bracelet Campaign sells bracelets made by former child soldiers. Profits go towards insuring economic stability for the displaced refugees in Northern Uganda.
The Child Soldiers Project
The Child Soldiers Project serves as an outlet for the expression of former child soldiers. It offers drawings, writings, and music from former child soldiers in Sierra Leone. The website gives a unique testimony to the terrors of being a child soldier.
World Vision is a humanitarian organization calling for humanitarian aide to child soldier in Gulu, Uganda. It offers a declaration and petition regarding child soldiers in Uganda and sponsors former child soldiers.
Human Rights Watch
Representatives of the Human Rights Watch have interviewed many child soldiers from different countries regarding their situations. The Human Rights Watch also published Complicit in Crime, an overview, analysis, and recommendation regarding the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)’s use of child soldiers.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
UNICEF offers aide to former child soldiers and helps to increase awareness for UN conventions that respect children’s rights.
The Child Soldiers division of Amnesty International is working to increase awareness for the use of child soldiers. It is working to urge Russia to ratify the UN Optional Protocol to UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and for other great causes.
What you can do
Some easy steps you can take to raise awareness are to teach others about child soldiers or to sign a petition. Here are some resources, including a middle school lesson plan and links to petitions regarding child soldiers.
Middle School Lesson Plan
We have created a lesson plan designed for students at a middle school level (7th- 8th grade) which overviews the use of child soldiers. It includes media presentations, a group activity, and ideas for a written reflection. This lesson plan works well with lessons regarding world history, current events, international law, and humanitarian efforts. The activities are approximately forty minutes in all. The lesson plan is available for download in Microsoft Word format here.
“No Child Soldiers” Declaration
The “No Child Soldiers” Declaration calls the United States and the United Nations to act against the use of child soldiers in Northern Uganda, and, in the words of World Vision (the petition sponsor), “to promote peace and protection” for the children there. Once one million signatures are collected in support of the declaration, it will be sent to the United States Congress, United Nations, and the Bush Administration. You can click here to sign the petition.
Petition Calling for “Awareness and Immediate Action” on the Use of Child Soldiers in Uganda
Sign the “Awareness & Immediate Action by the United Nations & Governments of the West for the End to the War and Mindless Suffering and Human Rights Violations in Northern Uganda Immediately” petition here, which calls for action and awareness for the use of child soldiers by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda.
Petition to Calling for UN Action in Burma (Myanmar)
This petition to the UN Secretary General calls for the United Nations Security Council’s intervention in numerous human rights violations occurring in Burma, among which is the government’s use of over 70,000 child soldiers. Click here to sign the petition.
“Abolish the Use of Child Soldiers” Petition
This petition calls for the ambassadors of Columbia, Cuba, and Indonesia to ratify the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which places 18 as the minimum age for recruitment into the military. Click here to sign this petition.
Writing letters is a great way to bring the use of child soldiers to attention. When someone receives a letter regarding an issue, it personalizes the issue by attaching it to their name. Through the combined efforts of many, the use of child soldiers may get the attention it needs.
Our team's letter template
Our ThinkQuest team has developed a general letter template regarding the use of child soldiers. The letter calls for humanitarian aide to child soldiers and to countries with child soldiers. If you live in the United States, please click here for the addresses of US political officials and here for the proper way to address the officials. If you live in the United Kingdom, this website can help you find your MP and his/her mailing address. If you live in Canada, this website can help you obtain the address of a Canadian political official. South African political addresses can be found here. The addresses of other political officials can be found by visiting their websites.
Other letter templates
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers offers a template for writing to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a secessionist militia in Sri Lanka. LTTE is known to recruit child soldiers into its forces, and UNICEF estimates that there are over 1,500 children in its militia, some of which have been forcefully abducted. To view multiple templates for writing to the LTTE, please click here and scroll down to the template section.
World Vision offers a template for writing to political figures in the United States. The template is centered on addressing the use of child soldiers in Northern Uganda, particularly those used by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It asks that the United States give political and financial aide to the Juba Peace Initiative (an UN program addressing child soldiers in Uganda), encourage the Sudanese government to end LRA activities within its borders, and to give more humanitarian aide to the children and families in Uganda. To view this template, please click here.
Write your own letter!
If a more specific tenet of child soldiering is placed on your heart, you can write your own letters to organizations regarding the use of child soldiers. Click here for some guidelines to follow when writing political letters, as highlighted by Amnesty International.
Charitable contributions are also important in the overall solution to eliminating child soldiers. Documented below are organizations that have pledged to help end military use of children through donations. By donating to one of these groups, it can be assured that your money is going to help bring relief to the thousands of child soldiers in the world today.
The Child Soldiers Coalition Educational and Research Trust
This charitable trust is apart of the larger Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers headquartered in London. A contribution to this trust will be going towards one of the largest networks that have dedicated themselves to stop the use of child soldiers.
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is an organization that is actively investigating and raising awareness on the injustices and injury being done to human beings around the world. Their child soldiers section is constantly being updated with new information. This organization is driven soley by private constributions so any donation made directly goes towards helping the organization grow.
The United Nations Children’s Fund
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is an international organization focused on initiating programs and increasing awareness for children of poverty, disease, and conflict. To donate to UNICEF in general, click here and choose your country. If you would like to donate money for UNICEF programs that are specifically for helping former child soldiers, you can do so through the United States Fund for UNICEF, found here.
In response to their documentary of child soldiers in Northern Uganda, the creators of “Invisible Children” have established a variety of programs aimed at helping the people of Uganda. For more information on the specific programs, please visit our “Raising Awareness” section. To donate to Invisible Children, or to buy the documentary, please visit their website by clicking here.
World Vision is a Christian organization aimed at providing humanitarian aide to children and families throughout the world. At a base donation of $30 a month, you can sponsor children from a variety of cultures and situations, including demobilized child soldiers. Click here to see the variety of means you can donate to World Vision’s causes. Donations will be primarily focused on paying for the medical treatment, food, education, and counseling of children.
Save the Children
Save the Children is an independent organization founded to aide children in dire situations. What is unique about Save the Children is their focus on not just helping the child as an individual, but helping the child within his or her own community. If you would like to donate to Save the Children’s emergency protection fund, you can click here. In the words of Save the Children, donations will be put towards helping “communities understand and cope with children who are returning from combat.”
Through the process of making this website, our team has learned a substantial amount of information about child soldiers in the world today. Below are some of the efforts we have personally made to raise awareness and help out in this ongoing situation.
February 12th, 2007 - Red Hand Day
The International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has declared February 12th Red Hand Day. In recognition of this event, our ThinkQuest team designed an announcement that was read on our school’s morning announcements. The announcement highlighted the international use of child soldiers, and called for a moment of silence to recognize the human rights violations being committed against and by child soldiers.
Presentation to Middle School Students - March 21, 2007
Members of our ThinkQuest team visited Kemps Landing Magnet School on March 21, 2007 to present our work-in-progress website and other information regarding the ThinkQuest competition and child soldiers. Before presenting, we gave the students a survey that assessed their prior knowledge of child soldiers. The results of the survey were surprising. Many of the students had no idea that child soldiers even existed, and those that did underestimated their numbers. After our presentation, we gave each student a questionnaire which asked students to reflect on our presentation.
Each member of our ThinkQuest team has sent letters to local Congressmen, the Bush Administration, the United Nations, and other national and international organizations. These letters call for action against the use of child soldiers and for the humanitarian support of former child soldiers.