Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Thousands of stolen childhoods : International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers
They are usually less than 18 years old and suffer multiple violations of their fundamental rights. Deprived of their childhood, they serve in armed conflicts around the world. Despite far-reaching existing international legal structures (Convention on the Rights of the Child, an optional protocol concerning the involvement of children in armed conflicts), the recruitment of child soldiers continues. On this International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, Terre des homme (Tdh) in its role as ambassador of children’s rights, reiterates the need to fight against such practices.
A child soldier is a child under 18 recruited into an armed conflict. In reality, many children are even younger even though international humanitarian law outlaws it. It is difficult to quantify the exact number of these children since it changes given what is happening in the world at any given time. Nevertheless, the figure is currently estimated at several tens of thousands.
Soldier, spy, baggage carrier, servant, mine layer, deminer: these are just some of the roles given to these children. This is why the term ‘children associated with armed groups or armed forces’ is more widely used since it covers a wider definition of the various tasks carried out by recruited children. Supporting an armed struggle, these children are likely to be sent to the front line. There, they face the threat of extreme violence and death from which escape by their own means is most likely impossible. Girls sent to fight incur a high risk of being abused and used as sex slaves. Transformed into young docile solders, these children are taught how to kill. To trivialise what they do, children are then made dependent on drugs, their group etc.
Constantly facing extreme violence and deprived of any humanity, these children do not emerge unscathed from such experiences. The trauma experienced, both physical and psychological, will stay with them as they grow and build their future.
Prevent and cure, Tdh ensures constant care for children
In the context of the conflicts in which Tdh takes action (South Sudan, Mali, Syria, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Colombia etc.), representatives of the Foundation individually investigate and confront the problems of children associated with armed groups or armed forces. With these children, they run reintegration projects on both the personal and professional level to give them prospects for the future.
The foundation also undertakes direct work, striving to improve the living conditions of populations (reduction of violence and poverty etc.). Focusing on children in its strategy for prevention and protection, Tdh acts to avoid the ‘voluntary’ involvement of children who, in the margins of society, see, in their recruitment, better opportunities than those available at home. By appealing to all parties involved, Tdh continues to denounce the forced recruitment and use of children associated with armed groups and armed forces.
Every year, Terre des hommes offers sustainable solutions and a better future for over two million children and their relatives. Learn more about our projects (http://www.tdh.ch/en/sections/protection).