Child soldiers: The role of children in armed conflict

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1 September 2015

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There are hundreds of thousands of children from all over the world who are forced and recruited into paramilitaries, civil militia, government armed forces and other armed groups. This situation is particularly common in Africa and Arabic countries which are constantly in war. In such countries the rate of insecurity is usually so high that the children cannot go school and as a result they voluntarily join the militia groups since it is the only activity they can actively be involved in. Some children are born and they experience the war from tender age, as a result war becomes part of them. In other cases the children are forcefully recruited and trained to be militia men. Thousands of children recruited are abducted from home, streets and schools. Other self recruits do it out of revenge they watched their family members being murdered in cold blood and others being raped and the anger makes them to join the army and militia group t seek revenge for their loved ones(Wessells, 456).

In the international law, the involvement and participation of children under eighteen years old in an armed conflict is totally unacceptable and prohibited. At the same time the recruitment of those under 15 is regarded as a war crime. Such children have their child hood robbed of and they are exposed to physical and psychological suffering and terrible danger. They are often placed in the combat situation used as messengers, spies, porters, servants to clear and lay the landmines. This is usually dangerous to their lives as in most cases they are usually incompetent and highly disadvantaged compared to the other experienced trained older soldiers. During confrontation they are in most cases put in the front line and they end up being killed the most. The girls in such cases are usually subject to sexual child abuse and rape (Shepler, 165).

The war and militia group encounter usually has adverse psychological impacts on the children. They witness and participate in a lot of killings and other inhuman acts which affect their psychological well being. Others run into depression and post traumatic stress because of being exposed to too much human blood. They usually find it hard to erase the sad and inhuman moments from their minds. They witness their colleagues being murdered in the war and they also killed people and these scenes keep flushing in their mind. If such victims don’t find urgent medical and professional help they die from stress and depression related ailments. Others end up committing suicide because of the traumatizing encounters and experiences (Klasen et al, 345).

In Somalia for example the children have been denied the access to education. The children are exposed to high level of poverty they are forced to join the militia group so that they can protect themselves. The al-Shabab have denied access to aid thus enhancing the humanitarian crisis. The education has been paralyzed in the country because schools are destroyed in the wars and others are used as hide outs and training ground for the militia men. The children and teachers cant risk going to school because they might be abducted or killed. This situation has caused thousands of children to flee in the neighboring countries such as Djibouti and Kenya as refugees where they face hard living conditions in the camps. The Al-Shabab armed group has imposed restrictions on the freedom and right to education. They prevent some subjects from being taught in school and they use the operating schools to indoctrinate children into taking part in the wars and fighting. The armed group use threatening recruitment methods and in some cases they lure the children promising them money and phones if they join them (kohrt et al, 188).

Children are used as soldiers they are easier to brainwash and condition. They are easily manipulated and convinced as opposed to the elderly people. They eat less food and they are underpaid. They have underdeveloped sense of danger and as a result they are easier to command In the line of fire. The children are also uniquely vulnerable to recruitment because of their physical and emotional immaturity. They are easily drawn and convinced into violence and wars that they are too young to understand and resist. The recruited children usually find it hard to go back home to their communities and families as they are ostracized from them. They are usually forced to kill a neighbor or family member so that they can’t go back home. For the female child soldiers, many have babies with the rebel soldiers and such children can’t be accepted in their homes making it difficult for them to return home (Achvarina, 132).

Since 2001 child soldiers participation in militia activities has been reported in twenty one recent or ongoing armed conflicts in different regions of the world. The advancement in technology in the proliferation of small arms and weaponry has also contributed a great deal to the increased recruitment of child soldiers. The lightweight automatic guns and other weapons are simple and easy to operate, they are easily accessible and they can be used by the children. The guns are more portable and easy to use this provision makes it possible for children to be recruited in the armed activities (Rosen, 345).

The children are also more likely to be recruited because of the separation from their families, high poverty levels displacement from homes, having limited access to education or living in a combat zone. Some children have parents who are both soldiers and they are born in the war area. Such children are almost naturally recruited as they don’t find it hard joining and participating in the war. Many children join the militia groups because of social and economic pressure that they are exposed to. others believe that the armed group will offer security and food. In some countries like Uganda, Sri Lanka and Nepal more of the child soldiers are reported to be girls. They are often raped and forced to be wives of the elderly soldiers. This is inhuman as it prevents the girl child from getting her rights and freedoms (Honwana, 287).

The former child soldiers should have adequate access to rehabilitation programs which will help them relocate back to their families or get back to school. They should not be treated as outcasts but instead they should receive vocational training in order to have an easy time re entering the civilian life. If the children lack this support they can easily be recruited back to the armed groups because they will find it hard to cope up and blend in the normal society after their extreme experiences with the guns. It is the responsibility of every government to ensure that children safety and rights are safeguarded. The governments should protect all children from being recruited in the militia activities. They should prohibit forced recruitment of children of children under eighteen years old (Bayer et al, 254).


Cohn, Ilene, and Guy S. Goodwin-Gill. Child soldiers: The role of children in armed conflict. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004.

Wessells, Michael G. Child soldiers: From violence to protection. Harvard University Press, 2006.Honwana, Alcinda. Child soldiers in Africa. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.Rosen, David M. Armies of the young: Child soldiers in war and terrorism. Rutgers University Press, 2005.Kohrt, Brandon A., et al. “Comparison of mental health between former child soldiers and children never conscripted by armed groups in Nepal.” Jama 300.6 (2008): 691-702.

Bayer, Christophe Pierre, Fionna Klasen, and Hubertus Adam. “Association of trauma and PTSD symptoms with openness to reconciliation and feelings of revenge among former Ugandan and Congolese child soldiers.” Jama 298.5 (2007): 555-559.

Klasen, Fionna, et al. “Posttraumatic resilience in former Ugandan child soldiers.” Child development 81.4 (2010): 1096-1113.

Rosen, David M. “Child soldiers, international humanitarian law, and the globalization of childhood.” American anthropologist 109.2 (2007): 296-306.

Shepler, Susan. “The rites of the child: Global discourses of youth and reintegrating child soldiers in Sierra Leone.” Journal of Human Rights 4.2 (2005): 197-211.

Achvarina, Vera, and Simon F. Reich. “No Place to Hide: Refugees, displaced persons, and the recruitment of child soldiers.” International Security 31.1 (2006): 127-164.

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"Child soldiers: The role of children in armed conflict" StudyScroll, 1 September 2015,

StudyScroll. (2015). Child soldiers: The role of children in armed conflict [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 28 January, 2023]

"Child soldiers: The role of children in armed conflict" StudyScroll, Sep 1, 2015. Accessed Jan 28, 2023.

"Child soldiers: The role of children in armed conflict" StudyScroll, Sep 1, 2015.

"Child soldiers: The role of children in armed conflict" StudyScroll, 1-Sep-2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 28-Jan-2023]

StudyScroll. (2015). Child soldiers: The role of children in armed conflict. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 28-Jan-2023]

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