Statistics on Child Soldiers

Content

1. Total numbers
2. Geographical breakdown
3. Case study: The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
4. Why child soldiers?
5. How are child soldiers recruited?
6. What can we do about it?

1. Total numbers

The numbers of child soldiers are constantly fluctuating in accordance with the evolution of different armed conflicts. So it’s difficult to estimate how many child soldiers there are at any time, a difficulty compounded by the inherent secrecy of it all. Shady recruiters aren’t likely to divulge statistics, and wartime conditions make everything difficult, including measurement. Human Rights Watch estimates that 200,000 to 300,000 children are currently serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces in armed conflicts. The best guess is that 100.000 of those fight in Africa. Myanmar also has a large number of child soldiers, although not in rebel groups but in the government armed forces. Soldiers under age 18 were reported in 21 armed conflicts in 2002-2007. The proportion of child soldiers in some armed groups was up to 70% (source).

Most child soldiers are boys, but girls are a substantial minority. Many children in fact volunteer, because life as a soldier often looks better than the misery and poverty they try to leave behind. About 2/3 volunteer. “Volunteer” is of course a stretch sometimes: maybe they are forced by poverty or maybe they want to revenge their community. Abduction is the exception. A majority of child soldiers are adolescents, between the ages of 15 and 18.

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2. Geographical breakdown

At present, armed groups operating in 21 countries use children as soldiers. There are 8 government armies listed for the recruitment and use of children, although 6 of them have already committed to making their armies child-free. In 2012, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo signed action plans with the United Nations. The previous year, Afghanistan and Chad made similar commitments. Discussions initiated with the Governments of Yemen and Sudan are expected to lead to action plans in the near future (source).

This map shows the countries where there were child soldiers active in armed conflict in 1998:

child soldiers world

And this map is a bit more specific on the African situation since Africa has without any doubt the largest number of child soldiers (although the problem exists also in South Asia, most notably in Myanmar):

child soldiers africa

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3. Case study: The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

The Lord’s Resistance Army is a religious and military group formed in 1987 and headed by Joseph Kony, who claims to be the “spokesperson” of God and a spirit medium, primarily of the Holy Spirit. The inspiration is mainly Christian. The LRA first engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government, but later moved its activities to parts of Sudan, Central African Republic and DR Congo. It’s infamous for widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children, and forcing children to participate in hostilities.

lra attacks map

(source)

Currently, the LRA seems to have moved its operations away from Uganda:

lra attacks map

(source)
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4. Why child soldiers?

Why are children recruited for warfare? Why not just use adults who are likely to be more capable and reliable soldiers? There are two interesting papers here and here looking at some of the reasons:

  • Children are relatively easy to abduct, subjugate, and manipulate. They are more impressionable and vulnerable to indoctrination, and their moral development is incomplete and malleable.
  • They are also seen as more loyal and less threatening to adult leadership.
  • Children, despite their a priori disadvantages in terms of fighting skills, may have a particular functional value. They may be suitable for menial logistical support of the armed group, or they may even have certain tactical advantages: they can slip through enemy lines unnoticed, making them effective spies and bomb carriers. Also, the proliferation of inexpensive, lightweight weapons has made it easier to use children as soldiers. These small arms are easy to transport and use with little training.
  • Rebel groups also make simple cost-benefit analysis: children require less food and no payment. Punishment of children is also less costly. Child soldiers are financially attractive. Rebel groups may be extremely resource-constrained and forced to recruit children.
  • The use of child soldiers can present a moral dilemma to enemies: should they kill children?
  • Rebel groups may recruit children in order to signal seriousness, commitment and ruthlessness, and thereby instill fear in the enemy.
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5. How are child soldiers recruited?

Patterns of recruitment of children vary according to the context. It’s usually a mix of punishment, promises of rewards and indoctrination.

  • The recruitment of children is facilitated when they are forced to participate in an assassination (perhaps of one of their relatives, parents or friends). The objective is to break their will. The forced killing of relatives also destroys a child’s outside options: if the child were to flee, it has no place to go to, or the community may reject the child because of what it did.
  • Armed forces will also destroy other outside options for children: schools, villages, farms etc.
  • Armed forces abuse children’s feelings of desperation and traumas resulting from previous situations of extreme violence.
  • Armed forces also abuse certain motivations of children: children may join armed forces because of the desire to take control of events, or because of the protection offered by being at the shooting end of a gun.
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6. What can we do about it?

There’s an interesting paper by Blattman and Beber that looks at some of the things governments can do about child soldiering. Child soldiers are often recruited by insurgent groups. Governments can decide to increase counter-insurgency efforts in order to stop the insurgents from recruiting children. But this counter-insurgency increases the minimum force size requirement for the rebel group, hence also the rebel leaders’ incentives to abduct children.

Now suppose the government reaction is not to step up hostilities but to develop educational and economic opportunities for children so that children have larger outside choices which make it more likely that they escape from and less likely that they are lured by the rebels. However, according to Blattman and Beber, intermediate levels of development of such choices could push the optimal age of recruitment of child soldiers downwards. And if outside choices increase, the incentives for the rebel group to take over the country also increase. If rebel group incentives increase, the incentives to recruit children also increase.

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85 Comments

  1. Pingback: Child Soldiers « Bill Housley – Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

  2. I hope and pray the end to child soldiers will come sooner than later. I hope my song “War Child” will strike a nerve and will have those recruiters change their minds from using those innocent kids.

    Z-PLUS

  3. Dude shutup its a 4real problem if u got nothin good to say then dont say it its scrubs like u that make things worse

  4. There is a staggering statistic that

    “at any one time, more than 300,000 children are actively fighting as soldiers with government armed forces or armed opposition groups worldwide. Almost half of the states engaged in warfare in 2002 were reported to use combatants under the age of 15. Children under the age of 18 are actively participating in hostilities in more than 35 countries worldwide – most are between the ages of 14 and 17, but some are as young as seven” (The Inter-Agency Planning Consultation on Child Protection in Emergencies, 2006).

    Debate raged in late 1990s about how to address the growing issue of children being used in conflict. The NGO working group in February 1997 issued a working document commonly known as the Paris Principles but fully titled The Paris Commitments to Protect Children from Unlawful Recruitment or use by Armed Forces or Armed Groups. The Paris Principles began the discussion in harmonization and creation of standards for groups working with armed children in conflict, and reintegration. The document also sets out an agenda by which the ngo group could advocate for the rights of armed children in conflict.

    In April 1997, UNICEF and the Group of NGOs organized a conference in Cape Town, South Africa. The document that was produced from this meeting has become known as the “Cape Town Principles and Best Practices,” and was adopted at this symposium as the standard by which groups working with child soldiers or those groups working to prevent recruitment of child soldiers would focus their efforts. The main thrust of the Cape Town Principles was to encourage governments to:

    Adopt a minimum age of 18 years should be established for any person participating in hostilities and for recruitment in all forms into any armed force or armed group.

    Adopt and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, raising the minimum age from 15 to 18 years. (Cape Town Principles)

    84 countries have since signed off on the Paris Principles on but other countries have refused.

    It is important to understand why child soldiers are used and to explore ways in which child recruitment may be curtailed. The phenomenon is, however, very complicated. While some children are abducted and used by a fighting force, others join by choice. Given these realities the questions below may guide our discussion into the world of children in armed conflict.

        • Blaxzas says

          SHUT UP!!!
          This is a serious topic, you asshole!
          It;s people like you that are the reason things like this keep happening!
          So just go home, stop being a dick, and try to think for once, if that isn’t too hard.

  5. Dancer for life says

    this is a serious problem,
    i am doing an assignment on this at school and it is just disgusting that people think it is okay to do this to children, then they get left traumatised, or even dead. i can’t believe that it has been left for this long, why cant we do anything about it quicker?

    • Lucia says

      Use the social media to raise awareness. Support programs and organizations that are already in place to support rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers. Volunteer locally or abroad. Involve family and friends. There are many ways to start. So start.

  6. minubs says

    dude the peope over there have it so hard i couldnt imagine living like that

  7. keimo says

    im doing a presentation on this…and well…what if that was you?????? what if that was you 6 years old going into war and getting taken away from your family?? this is not something to make fun of or laugh at…yea im only in high school but i understand things…and people like you making this a joke its bull crap….everyday a child dies….what if that was your child….stop being a a-hole and start relizing your lucky that wasnt you……watch what your saying……and i hope that there families get theree child back….i feel bad…and you should to.

  8. Becky says

    I don’t understand how people can laugh at an issue so strong and concerning. You may think it affects you, but in reality its an issue that affects everyone. Children who join rebel forces to fight don’t fully understand what they’re doing or what is better for them beyond their own lands. We need to stop talking about change and just do it already. These kids need help, and so do their traumatized family’s. The time for change is now.

  9. CourtneyMollie says

    I Have Wrote A Letter To David Cameron Explaining What Is Happening In These Cruel Countries.I Dissagree With Peoples Foul Laungage On Here And There Dissrespectfull Comments Although ‘some’ senssible people have actually wrote true statics and truly belive some day child soilders will finally stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!…..help us save the world from child abuse help today and donate just 2 pence a week to a variety of charitys across the united kingdom!:)

  10. Masune says

    Haha, that is where you are wrong my Asian friend. Anyways, why are there so many douchebags going and flaming on something like this? If your just gonna say something that makes you look like a complete dick, don’t post

    Sorry for my language.

  11. Aleks&&Louisee says

    We are 13 years old researching child soldiers we dont think its right , people our age in africa walking round with guns shooting their bestfriends is horrific , we ferel very strongly about this and the fact that there are some stupid comments on here isnt very fair to all those children who are dying out in africa!!!! hehee bye x

  12. Pingback: Human Rights Maps (135): The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Child Soldiers | P.a.p.-Blog | Human Rights Etc.

  13. wow199548 says

    i want this stop so badly, but how?
    i’m doing a photostory on a social issue and is just sicken by the facts that are listed on sites about Child soldiers. And to all of you that find this funny, i’ve got two words “Screw u”…kids die and u laugh. Talked about being spoiled that your country gives you freedom that poor countries fail to offer. i truly hope that you reflect on your stupidity and rethink about what you said….

  14. frogmeier says

    Im in middle school and doing a powerpoint on this matter. It’s serious and those kids need help. If you dont give a crap, read the book “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmeal Beah. He was a child soldier, and you should shut you mouths before you actually say what’s in ur brain-dead heads. SO GIVE A CRAP!!!

  15. ihaveadream says

    the fact is people, the governments of these countries know full well whats going on, they choose or are even involved with conscripting these children, people saying this is the worst thing ever , they are right, but what are we going to do, our economy is falling apart, we a ridiculed and demolished by race and religion and how we perceive our own individual rights, we as humans are selfish, the only force that can help is the United Nations but they cant unite without causing war, no government wants to stop anything, for as long as we live their will be death, war and poverty its how our countries coexist, by booms and falls in the economy america may be powerful one day poor the next, wait thats already happened. so what can we do….. nothing!!! we are just looking our for ourselves… kinda unfortuante for those kids

  16. Carla in Sacramento, California says

    There’s a lot you can do. First, do as I do. Raise awareness. Hold a talk, hold a screening of the documentary “Invisible Children”. Write your legislature and pressure them into doing more, or at least see what they are doing. If enough people talk about it, it becomes politician’s priorities too.
    Next, actually know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen so many people mindlessly quote the same damn thing over and over it makes me wonder if they even know or care what’s happening. Try reading writings of child soldiers who have escaped, then you’ll know what it’s about. For example, instead of quoting “200-300 thousand children are forced into armed combat…” well, that’s not technically true. There are some who willingly join to help provide for their families. Others are forced into it, some join because they have nowhere to go. Take this quote for example, “I joined the Army when I was 14 because, one, I was persuaded that the only way to get my parents back or to stop that from happening was to be a part of the Army and kill those people who were responsible for killing my parents.” Everybody seems to assume child soldiers are forced into it physically.
    Those of you who claim to care but don’t know where to start need to get up and start. Talk to your school about hosting a screening. Organize a club on campus for human rights awareness. Don’t sit and say you’re helpless, and powerless, because if that’s the case, I don’t want you working on this anyway. These children need someone with a voice, and you each have one, but don’t know how to use it.

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  18. Somepeoplearesodumb says

    To some of these people that are commenting, stop fucking around. This is a serious issue. If you want to be a dick, PLEASE go somewhere else. This was meant to be for people to share their thoughts about the issue, not call other people N*ggers and f*gs. So, if you’re going to be an incompetent little bastard please do it somewhere else.

    P.S. You guys are dumb. You’re just being ignorant about the issue because you’re afraid of it.

  19. Pingback: Top 20 Most-Read Posts of 2011 | P.a.p.-Blog | Human Rights Etc.

  20. matt tolby wa says

    i strongly disagree i believe child soldiers are gREAT. i LOVE WAtching little kids with guns. semper Fi
    Go Marines. Call of Duty

  21. billy bob says

    Thank u! somebody agrees with me. child soldiers r great for the world. they should go out and get off the video games. and call of duty helps them train for war. and who cares if they get killed? just have some more kids and we’ll have an army

    • Yea, well wut if that wuz u? Go play black ops more right now and train for real war. Theres always gonna be more kids if ur killed.

  22. it does not matter that we have problems here, that is no longer an acceptable argument. the truth is, there are things we can do and therefore we should. awareness is the key. we would not allow this to happen at home which is besides the fact anyways, the point is we are all human beings so it is all of our problems and we can all aid in stopping this travesty. keep spreading the word.

  23. Pingback: Informational Links | shattered

  24. Smilee childe says

    Hey Matt tolby wa and billy bob??? You think this is funny??? You think this is a joke?? Children are being forced to watch there moms get raped, they are being forced to shoot their best friend, every day they see people burn to death. Do you know what burning flesh smells like?? Most people who smell it through up repeatedley until there is absolutely no stomach acid left in them. These 7 year olds smell this every day. Do you know what it looks or feels like to see a woman with her chest cut off bleed to death with her new born baby lying beside her, crying for there dying mother?? Do you know what it feels like for murders and your torturers to be your only family?? Do you know what it’s like to have to eat your enemies heart raw after you killed them? I didn’t think so. This isn’t a game, it’s real life. So wake up and grow up. Stop talking about matters you don’t have the maturity or mental capacity to understand. If you don’t get it, if you don’t feel compassion for these poor children then don’t say anything until you do get it!!!

  25. Phoc Yu says

    uh, YEAH. (in agreement w/ Smilee childe). So shut the fuck up, and have some compassion, assholes. Now let’s stop this stupid arguing, and get back to the main topic: Child soldiers.

  26. Pingback: The Worst Militias Of The Modern World (Part 1) | Planet Ivy

  27. girl says

    im disgusted by wat i c! me and my friend are 13 years old and we both feel strongly about child soldiers! all u idiots who think its funny then go play play station or something that is more suited to ur brain capacity and get off this site! it is not for aholes like u! thanku to every1 who uses this site appropriately.

  28. jorge says

    Children soldiers are only going to be soldiers without a soul, it is not their fault we as the U.S audience should step in and do something about it.

  29. Rebecca says

    People should be getting behind the organistons such as War Child and helping them make an actual difference. Help Raise Awareness, Sign Petitions or even donate the smallest amount of money. Every little thing helps !!

  30. Taylor says

    Child Soldiers International are absolutely amazing! A friend of mine adopted a child who had been a child soldier in Africa where Child Soldiers International and the processes were awesome for her recovery and beyond! :-)

  31. It amazes me by the amount of people that are so disgusting and not supportive of this cause. Although, its so satifying to know that organisations are backed with loads of support from generous people. Big and well-known organisations such as World Vision, Amnesty, War Child etc are inspiring, but there are also other insititues that you can help grow such as War Direct, International Rescue Commit and HelpChildSoldiers.com. The smaller organisations are consistenly working hard and need just as much recognition. Advertise this cause and help amazing people, help more amazing people.

  32. DGAF SJNMA says

    this is a topic we shouldnt wory about if they want to fuck themselfs let them fuck them selfs its not our fucking problem

    • Edward Gray says

      DGAF SJNMA You are obviously ignorant to the issue. You don’t seem to understand that these child soldiers DO NOT have a choice. They are forced to fight by rebel groups. It may not be your personal problem, but it is an international probelm of great devastation. So keep your uneducated opinions to yourself next time.

  33. This article was extremely helpful towards me, the information is accurate and well written also DGAF SJNMA, how would you like it if you were forced into killing your own parents along with other multiple people of whom you may cared for. The being used against your own people, drugged daily and brainwashed into not even remembering who you are?? I think you would be in need of help which is exactly what this site intends to do. By educating people arrogant enough to think this topic should not be worried about will help those suffering immensely throughout the world. So please, if you have nothing intelligent to say, then just shut up.

  34. It's Carla again. says

    LOL Seriously, this thread is so full of trolls it’s ridiculous. Quit giving them attention and give attention to the real problem.

  35. someone.... says

    Ok these maps are useless…. Put a graph or pie chart to show statistics. You can’t find a single one on child soldiers

  36. the real problem is what to do… a couple of connections to people who are doing something – an organization called warchild (warchild.org) and another called justice rising (justicerising.org) led by an amazing young woman from saskatoon canada cassandra basnett – her dedication and fearlessness are an awesome example of one person’s ability to create change. myself i have been working on a series of art poetry music and film which i am linking to people like the above and like this blog in order to raise more awareness about these issues – see youtube ‘the mother dave rankin’

  37. Unknown source says

    This child soldier topic is bigger than anything besides the obvious WW3 or something like that. Im disgusted to see so many people arent worried about this. If this really takes off then who knows what could happen. My theory is that if we as people dont act now against this then your childrens children wont know what a family is. Is as bad as that. I recently had contact with Sam Childers. Uganda is worse than it will ever be. Just think about being forced to kill your mother then being raped. Just think. I know some of you wont. But you have a chance of acctually preventing this from taking off. So ya. Dont walk away after reading this thinking that Im crazy because Im not. You are.

    • coolwcool says

      This child soldier topic is bigger than anything besides the obvious WW3 or something like that. Im disgusted to see so many people arent worried about this. If this really takes off then who knows what could happen. My theory is that if we as people dont act now against this then your childrens children wont know what a family is. Is as bad as that. I recently had contact with Sam Childers. Uganda is worse than it will ever be. Just think about being forced to kill your mother then being raped. Just think. I know some of you wont. But you have a chance of acctually preventing this from taking off. So ya. Dont walk away after reading this thinking that Im crazy because Im not. You are.

  38. coolwcool says

    I think that also child soldiers are smart because they are little and can crawl through random places are small

  39. The one who cares says

    I don’t get why you are talking like this, do you just not understand, those kids are being taken advantige of; it’s not right in any way. Shut up if you don’t have a reason to even be looking at this sight. You’re not cool for saying those things. Care for a minute. Those kids had their lives taken from them. Lets not make it worse. Let’s help, and not suport what harm is being done. The future can be saved….

  40. The one who cares says

    Although some may volunteer, they may not know what they are doing, anything would be better then what they would get put through. But then again that may be another thing that would make them so easy to minipulate… Thank you to the other people who comment with care….

  41. High School student with morals says

    Thanks for the information, it will really help me with my presentation on child soldiers. There is much we should do but governments have no oil to recover so this might last a while…

  42. Francis says

    does anyone please know in which conflict were child soldiers not used in africa or not many?

  43. Pingback: 10 Shocking Facts about Child Soldiers in Africa - Answers Africa

  44. this is a very educational site and this analysis is very serious and is happening abundantly and is a very frightening topic to comment on, but this is happening as we speak and due to the vulnerability to all the children including me but from this I have learnt a lot, and I hope I do good on my oral and educate my gr.6 class.

  45. DarkGasher says

    I think it’s said that people think children soldiers are funny these kids kill their parents or neighbors and are banned from their village the girls get raped and forced to be a wife to their captures or another child soldier what is funny about it children are forced to fight in the war I don’t see whats so funny about that

  46. pimp daddy says

    I believe that this is a serious topic and some of you people are acting like this is a joke!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  48. JEN JAUN says

    I agree with all you guys about the child soldiers. Its a serious deal. all you mother fuckers and dick heads who think its cool can go shove a log up their asses and go to Africa and experience it for yoursrelf

  49. Adrian says

    It’s sad to see people talk like this about the writer, I don’t think he meant to offend anybody but tried to bring the other terms of child soldiers to light.

  50. Pingback: Child Soldiers | Phoebe's Blog

  51. ANONYMOUS says

    Hey, thanks for the information. It is the first really decent information I can get a hold of. I think it’s sad that so many people are uneducated about the international crisis that, as a world, we face together but seems to go unseen beneath the radar. I know for a fact that many if not most of the people at my school do not know the severity of the Child Soldier issue we all face. Thanks for the great information!

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