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Child Soldiers

Dessin: Stéphanie Garnière

Beside the two major programmes on juvenile justice and child labour that are conducted by the International Secretariat of DCI and implemented by DCI national sections in various regions of the world, Defence for Children International is also seeking to broaden its activities to become a more worldwide movement actively engaged in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. Among all the multi-faceted problems faced by the world’s children, the situation of children affected by armed conflict - notably children abducted and recruited by armed forces as combatants - is really a serious and an urgent issue that would benefit from our special attention.

There are an estimated 300 000 children under the age of 18 years who serve as soldiers in around 30 coutries worldwide. In the past ten years, more than two millions children have been killed in armed conflicts and some six millions have been seriously injured or permanently disabled. Africa and Asia are particulary affected by this growing phenomenon which is responsible of the worst violations of child’s rights: the right to life, the right to grow up in a family environment, the right to health, the right to education, the right to survival and full development, the right to be nurtured and protected, and so on. The involvement of children in armed conflict is more and more a matter of concern for the international community since it is well recognised that this practise has a devastating effect on the physical and mental integrity of the child. The recruitment and use of child soldiers is prohibited by legal instruments on human rights, and specifically condamned in the Optionnal Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflicts. Morever, this practice is now considered a war crime under the Rome Statute (1998) which established the International Criminal Court. This is an important accomplishment to end the impunity of those who recruit children within their ranks. However, although the adoption of legal instruments constitutes the preliminary steps to undertake, lines are still easier to write than to implemente in practice. Fighting against the use of child soldiers requires therefore to carry out concrete and direct actions adapted to the local context of the country.

The International Secretariat is currently working on a project in favour of child soldiers in the following countries where DCI has national sections: Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republique of Congo, Sri Lanka and Colombia. The objective of this project is to support Disarmement, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programmes implemented in these countries and to make sure that they are taking into account the specific needs of children, and particullary of young girls. Our national sections will mainly focus their activities on the third step of the progamme, that is the issue of reintegration of former child combatants. It is a long-term process that helps children to return to civilian life and readjust both socially and economically. Education and training play here an important role because they are tools capable of providing children with viable alternative to their involvement in fighting forces. This is even more important in the case of voluntary recruitment. Contributing at the enhancement of local capacity is also crucial to succeed the reintegration process.

As a coordination-point, the International Secretariat will reinforce initiatives of DCI sections for child soldiers by:

  • providing them a financial and a technical support to their programmes and actions
  • promoting cooperation and exchange of information between sections of DCI an between DCI sections and external bodies
  • by promoting and advocating for the implementation of international standards which prohibit the use of child soldiers
  • by taking an active part in the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers





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