Weekly Defense Monitor| Volume 2, Issue No.
On June 30 the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child
Soldiers was launched by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch,
International Federation of Terre des Hommes, Jesuit Refugee
Service, Quaker United Nations Office, and Rädda Barnen - Swedish
Save the Children (on behalf of the International Save the Children
Alliance). The International Coalition is working to raise awareness
of the issue of Child Soldiers - both by national governments and
the general public - and to achieve a ban eliminating the use of
One of the Coalition’s objectives is to set up national campaigns
in countries where the issue of child soldiers is virtually unknown
or where a country has a particular policy detrimental to the
advancement of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights
of the Child (which raises the age of military recruitment,
conscription, and participation in war to 18 years).
The United States is one such country. Not only does the U.S.
recruit individuals under 18 for military service, the U.S. is
blocking progress of a UN working group addressing the issue of
child soldiers. In response, non- governmental organizations have
established the U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. To
address strategies pertaining to the U.S. Government and to work for
change in U.S. policy through the legislative branch, the Washington
Coalition on Child Soldiers has been formed.
The International Coalition’s launch came on the heels of
historic action at the United Nations by the UN Security Council on
the issue of child soldiers. On June 29, the Security Council
debated the issue of child soldiers. The discussions were initiated
by the President of the Security Council, Antonio Monteiro of
Portugal. Reuters reported Monteiro’s statement on behalf of the
Council: "[The Security Council] strongly condemns the targeting of
children in armed conflicts, including their humiliation,
brutalization, sexual abuse, abduction and forced displacements, as
well as their recruitment and use in hostilities in violation of
international law." Furthermore, Inter Press Service reported the
Council’s condemnation of "the recruitment of children in
hostilities as a violation of international law and called upon all
parties concerned to put an end to such activities."
The Council called upon the UN’s Special Representative for
Children in Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, among others, to inform
the Council of the multitude of issues concerning child soldiers.
Otunnu, who previously held the post of Foreign Minister of Uganda,
was appointed by UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan in 1997 in
accordance with a provision in a 1996 General Assembly Resolution.
Otunnu revealed startling statistics to the Council. Currently,
over 250,000 children under the age of 18 serve in government
military forces or with armed rebel groups. Children are directly
involved in conflicts in over 50 countries in various capacities
such as cooks, spies, messengers, "comfort women," and of course,
soldiers. Otunnu also illustrated the damage armed conflict
perpetuates on children around the world: "In the last decade alone
we have seen two million children killed, over one million orphaned,
six million seriously injured or permanently disabled, 12 million
made homeless and 10 million left with serious psychological
The issue of child soldiers is shocking and horrifying. Both boys
and girls, some as young as eight years old, are recruited (either
kidnaped or forced) to join armed groups. These children often
suffer sexual abuse, are encouraged to partake in illegal drugs, and
are forced to commit atrocities and egregious acts of violence.
A significant factor in the increased use of child soldiers has
been the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Because
these weapons are easy to use and are lightweight, a small child can
carry and operate them. A New York Times Report quotes the Deputy
Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),
Stephen Lewis, as saying that "a booming trade in small arms was
contributing to a worldwide culture of violence and indiscriminate
killing at the end of the 20th century that was putting guns into
the hands of children."
There is an enormous amount of work to be done to educate the
world community about the issue of child soldiers. As international
and national efforts take hold, they contribute to the growing
momentum to eliminate the use of children as soldiers. At the press
conference launching the International Coalition, Stephen Lewis
summed up the need for increased efforts: "The use of children in
waging war violates every existing standard of civilized human
behavior. The international community can dilly-dally no longer: we
must take action. The starting point is clearly a universal ban on
military recruitment of any kind - voluntary or obligatory - under
the age of 18."
Analyst Rachel Stohl