Recruitment Of Child Soldiers On The Rise?

Although the term child soldiers was first coined in the 1970s, the phenomenon of using children in association with military organizations is nothing new. Thus, recruitment of children in roles such as couriers and porter’s giving armies a tactical edge has been traced back millennia.  The phenomenon itself is not limited to particular countries, but instead is a global phenomenon utilized by a multitude of populations throughout history. Due to the enormity of child soldiers on a global scale, there is little agreement on the advent of child soldiers. In addition, the ever-changing nature of what distinguishes a child renders it difficult to track the use of children in military organizations. 

 In the early stages of the industrial era, child soldiers were frequently conscripted by national armies in various occasions of inter and intrastate conflict. A prominent example is the recruitment of child soldiers during the American Civil War. In more recent times, the use of child soldiers in the First World War and the Second World were substantial. This is largely attributed to the magnitude of global conflict as the demand for soldiers was at an unprecedented high, causing several countries to lower their age requirement for recruitments. The involvement of children in warfare was thus normalized and enabled by the lack of legal provisions stating otherwise. 

Today, the use of child soldiers appears to have been mitigated by global efforts and the codification of human rights. With the proliferation of human rights and democracy emanating from the West, the use of child soldiers by the global North’s national armies is nonexistent. Yet in specific regions of the global South, the recruitment of child soldiers persists. It is estimated that up to 200 0000 to 300 000 child soldiers (under the age of 18) are involved in war around the world at this very moment. UN special representative Radhika Coomaraswamy stated, “We still live in a world with those who would use children as spies, soldiers, and human shields.” Child Soldier International reported in 2018 that in 46 countries children are being recruited by non-governmental combatant groups. This nascent formation of child soldiers is illuminated by children’s recruitment by global terrorist networks, militias, rebel insurgents, guerilla fighters and more. Prominent examples of recruiters of child soldiers include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Columbia, the National Liberation Forces (FNL) in Burundi, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. 

The number of child soldiers appears to be jumping as the UN reported the recruitment of  3,159 in 12 countries in 2012, and later in 2017 the recruitment of 8,185 in 15 countries. Although the actual numbers of child soldiers remain largely unreported due to a variety of barriers, the recent trends show that child soldiers are on the rise. The increasing numbers of child soldier recruitment beg for increased levels of awareness regarding the driving forces of child soldiers worldwide. Countries to watch in regards to this phenomenon are Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. The surge of recruitment in these areas is connected to the perpetual violence which has been occurring within and around these countries. As a result of conflict political, social, and economic landscapes have shifted to become increasingly conducive to child soldier recruitment.

In order to combat the lack of social mobility granted to children, there must be significant preventative efforts from the grassroots to empower children in environments of conflict. This empowerment can be done through a number of practices; the first being the implementation of increased social protections for children meaning increased resources given to family reunification programs. Following this, there must be adequate and sustained provisions of resources.  Since poverty can diminish children’s access to education the importance of provisions such as food and school supplies to children living beneath the poverty line is evident. The third practice that should be implemented is the strengthening of educational programs. The educational program strengthening, such as vocational training, can increase children’s awareness of the threats and consequences of child soldiering and engaging in hostilities. With the tools of education, children can better navigate landscapes of conflict and the lure of military organization recruitment. Finally, the fourth practice is to increase employment capacities for children. Employment opportunities can inspire creativity and entrepreneurship in individuals at an age of heightened vulnerability. Thus empowerment through employment can act as a vital link between children and their society rendering options of voluntary child soldiering less attractive. Together with strengthening opportunities for employment and education will give children an increased sense of agency in a given society and thus counteract the aforementioned root causes of voluntary recruitment.