Child soldiering is
a unique and severe manifestation of trafficking in persons
that involves the recruitment of children through force,
fraud, or coercion to be exploited for their labor or to
be abused as sex slaves in conflict areas. Government forces,
paramilitary organizations, and rebel groups all recruit
and utilize child soldiers. UNICEF estimates that more than
300,000 children under 18 are currently being exploited
in over 30 armed conflicts worldwide. While the majority
of child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18, some
are as young as 7 or 8 years of age.*
A child soldier victim in northern Uganda.
Many children are abducted to be used as
combatants. Others are made to serve as porters, cooks,
guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Many young girls
are forced to marry or perform sexual services for male
combatants. Male and female child soldiers are often sexually
abused, and are at high risk of unwanted pregnancies and
contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Some children have been forced to commit
atrocities against their families and communities. Child
soldiers are often killed or wounded, with survivors often
suffering multiple traumas and psychological scarring. Their
personal development is often irreparably damaged. Returning
child soldiers are often rejected by their home communities.
Child soldiers are a global phenomenon.
The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, but armed
groups in the Americas, Eurasia, and the Middle East also
use children. All nations must work together with international
organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to
take urgent action to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate
What the United States Is Doing
The Department of State’s annual Trafficking
in Persons Report assesses foreign government actions to
combat trafficking, including protecting child soldier victims.
In FY 2004, the United States Government spent more than
$81 million on anti-trafficking efforts abroad. For example:
USAID is funding a program to rehabilitate children who
were abducted and trafficked by a terrorist organization
to bases in southern Sudan and northern Uganda, and to protect
children who travel on foot nightly from villages into towns
to avoid abduction.
In Afghanistan, the Department of Labor is funding a program
that has demobilized nearly 4,000 child soldiers and enrolled
them in education and counseling programs.
In the past three years, the Department of State’s
Bureau of African Affairs funded programs in Burundi, the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Liberia for reintegrating
former child combatants.
In 1999, the United States ratified International Labor
Organization Convention 182, which recognizes the "forced
or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict"
as one of the worst forms of child labor.
In December 2002, the United States ratified
the UN Optional Protocol on the Use of Children in Armed
Conflict that makes the minimum compulsory recruitment age
* UNICEF, "Fact
Sheet: Child Soldiers," http://www.unicef.org/protection/files/childsoldiers.pdf.