Child soldiers
Education to prevent child recruitment

Prevention of recruitment and reintegration of former child soldiers is high on the JRS agenda. There is a strong link between forced displacement and the forced recruitment of children by armed groups. Displaced children are an easy target for recruiters since they often lack adequate protection and education. JRS stresses the need for education as a means to decrease recruitment, and to give children a meaningful alternative to enlistment.

A former member of the Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers, JRS continues to work closely with its successor, Child Soldiers International, reporting on the use of children by armies or non-state actors.

  • JRS position
  • In practice
JRS Working Paper on Child Soldiers

The recruitment and use of children as soldiers – some as young as six years old – are obvious violations of the elementary rights of children and have been termed as the "worst form of child labour" by the International Labour Organisation1. These practices have been repeatedly condemned by different states and international organisations. The exact number of child soldiers worldwide is not known, but the figure is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. They are used by both government and non-governmental groups.

Children who are involved in this horror participate in activities like espionage, supporting armed groups as informants and messengers, engage in illicit activities such as drug production or simply become victims of sexual exploitation. Male children who belong to such a group may assume command roles later on. They also act as decoys, logisticians, domestic labour, porters and assist in distributing materials to other combatants.

Many children are killed, seriously wounded or imprisoned. Child soldiers are often brutally treated; they do not have enough to eat, nor access to health care. They are regularly beaten and humiliated in order to transform them into violent persons with the result that rehabilitation into society is an enormous challenge.

These practices and others are presented in different ways, mainly as forced recruitment. But in some cases, structural conditions push children to join armed groups voluntarily. Poverty, lack of employment/sustainable livelihood opportunities, lack of education, a desire for revenge against those who may have already killed their families and relatives, the militarised environment, the circulation of small arms … are some of the factors that may push a child into recruitment.

When recruitment is forced, military leaders wish to recruit children because they are obedient, they have the capacity to learn quickly and are willing to undertake all tasks. They are also cheap to recruit and easy to maintain. Finally they are considered as “pure? according to mystical beliefs and they are known to be hard and fearless combatants.

The International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers stated that by 2007, hundreds of thousands of children around the world have become victims of these crimes. The work experience of JRS in some regions of the world also allows us to affirm that such cases continue to rise.  In those instances there was no distinction between actors: the children were involved in conflicts as part of state military forces, paramilitary groups, self-defence groups, militias or insurgency groups.

Necessary changes
All states must ratify or accede to international treaties related to this issue and take all necessary measures to ensure their compliance. Other relevant stakeholders such as international organisations, civil society organisations and parties in conflict should contribute by promoting the international law in the domain:

The Protocol I Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions states that children are subject to special protection in the context of armed conflicts and as such should be protected from any type of attack. This provision is reaffirmed in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict establishes 18 as the minimum age for joining the armed forces.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the recruitment or enrolment of children under 15, or their use for participating actively in hostilities as a war crime applicable for national or international armed conflicts. It also prescribes prosecution under the International Criminal Court (ICC) for child recruiters.

The ILO 182 Convention, related to the Worst Forms of Child Labour prohibits mandatory or forced recruitment of children and their use in armed conflicts, and defines it as a practice similar to slavery.

Suggestion for change –that governments consider changing their national legislation to outlaw the recruitment of children under 18 years old.

Involvement of JRS
Recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts has become an enormous challenge in the work of JRS throughout the world. In many cases, JRS projects are carried out in conflict settings with high social complexity, where, among other situations, the recruitment of children and their participation in hostilities is a continuous hazard.  In addition, JRS strives to adhere to the standards set by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which provides that no person under the age of 18 years should take part or be recruited for any armed activities2.

It has already been proved in JRS experience that there is often a relation between forced displacements in a country and the forced recruitment of children. Those children displaced are an easy target for recruiters. There is a lack of protection and education (e.g. secondary education in camps might decrease). As long as the JRS mission is to accompany, to serve and to advocate for those who lost their home, we are committed to this issue of child soldiers. 

To this end, JRS works closely with the Child Soldiers International, the predecessor to the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Within this framework, JRS denounces the situation of children in conflict zones, initiates awareness campaigns and submits recommendations that allow action to be taken. This helps to establish points of connection between the most excluded areas and the decision-making centres at the international level.    

In Latin America, JRS has been working for more than a decade in Colombia on a programme focused on preventing children from joining armed groups and from illicit activities. JRS has also offered access to education to refugees and asylum seekers in Venezuela.
 
In Africa, JRS-Grands Lacs has been working to improve the life conditions of children affected by the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These actions consist in the identification and demobilisation of child soldiers, in support for family reunification, in follow-up through psychological care and helping them to get access to primary and secondary education. JRS is also conducting a similar project in Chad with demobilised child soldiers to help their integration back into society.

In JRS-Eastern Africa, JRS works to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers back into their communities. JRS supports peace building to mend relations between former child soldiers returning to their communities which were ravaged by these child soldiers; JRS helps former child soldiers with psychosocial support, education (primary and secondary school, adult literacy), training them in agriculture, life skills, HIV/AIDS awareness and recreational activities such as sports and cultural dances.  

Recommendations / talking Points
To the parties in conflict
  • Take all necessary action to guarantee that minors under 15 do not take part in armed action and refrain from recruiting them.
To national authorities
  • Ratify or accede international treaties related to avoiding the recruitment and use of children as soldiers in armed conflicts. This includes the development of national laws that reinforce those dispositions.
  • Children arrested for their participation in hostilities should receive different treatment from adults and in no case shall the death penalty apply.
  • Adopt/change legal provisions to prevent the recruitment and use of children under the age of 18 years by other parties in conflict. This includes the establishment of criminal sanctions against those who engage in these practices.
  • Provide the necessary assistance to those who are demobilised, for their physical and psychological recovery, and help them to integrate back into society, i.e. effective Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration strategies – that act as deterrents for voluntary conscription or trafficking. Involve the children in these processes as well as ensuring that the  community plays its part.  Create specially-tailored programmes for boys, girls, orphans and children with disabilities.
  • Promote programmes focused on preventing children from being used for the perpetration of illicit activities, especially for drug production and drug trafficking, understanding this issue as one of the worst forms of child labour. 
To National authorities, international and civil Society organisations
  • Guarantee long-term funding for programmes focused on prevention, demobilisation and recovery of child soldiers.
  • Provide alternatives to recruitment by investing in education for children, as well as employment or livelihood opportunities; give support to former child soldiers and to  their communities.
  • Bearing in mind, while planning prevention and attention programmes, the particular situation of girls in relation to the risk of their becoming victims of sexual abuse. 
  • Develop monitoring systems which allow the collection of accountable and timely information about the recruitment and use of children and other violations of their mandatory rights. This should be in compliance with the recommendations of the UN Security Council through Resolution 1612. 
  • Engage in activities that promote or protect the rights of the child under internationally and nationally recognised instruments. 
  • Continue research and monitoring trends in child recruitment, and advocate with governments, non-state actors and armed groups to cease the use of child soldiers – or face consequences.

1. Article 3 of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999.
2. Article 22, paragraph 2. States Parties to the present Charter shall take all necessary measures to ensure that no child shall take a direct part in hostilities and refrain in particular, from recruiting any child.

In practice – JRS responses

In Latin America, JRS has been working for more than a decade in Colombia on a programme focused on preventing children from joining armed groups and from illicit activities. By empowering minors, JRS helps them to become aware of their rights and to envisage alternatives for their future. JRS has also offered access to education to refugees and asylum seekers in Venezuela as a preventive measure against recruitment.

In Africa, JRS Grands Lacs has been working to improve the life conditions of children affected by the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These actions consist in the identification and demobilisation of child soldiers, in support for family reunification, in follow-up through psychological care and helping them to get access to primary and secondary education. JRS is also conducting a similar project in Chad with demobilised child soldiers to help their integration back into society.

In JRS Eastern Africa, JRS works to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers back into their communities. JRS supports peace building to mend relations between former child soldiers returning to their communities which were ravaged by these child soldiers; JRS helps former child soldiers with psychosocial support, education (primary and secondary school, adult literacy), training them in agriculture, life skills, HIV/AIDS awareness and recreational activities such as sports and cultural dances.  

In Chad, there is no clear plan of action to remove children from the army and other rebel groups. Through its education projects, JRS Chad works towards the rehabilitation of former child soldiers, seeking durable solutions for them. We promote the setting up of local committees whose role is awareness-raising in communities, so that everyone can play a role in the prevention of recruitment. Our advocacy hinges on open dialogue with the army and the Ministry of Social Affairs for a large disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme. JRS is also contributing to the drafting of an action plan to be submitted to the authorities by the NGO community.