Global efforts to end the use of child soldiers are still being gravely under-resourced by the international community.
On the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers (12 February 2018), Child Soldiers International is calling for UN member states and governments to put the issue of child recruitment back on the international agenda and provide the necessary resources to prevent the use of child soldiers and adequately assist those who return home.
Official Development Assistance - international aid provided by governments and international bodies - topped $174 billion in 2015, a recent report found.
However, only 0.6% of that was spent on projects fully or partially designed to end violence against children.
The recruitment and use of child soldiers continues at alarming levels around the world today and the international community must act now to help end this devastating practice.
The 2017 UN Report on Children and Armed Conflict names 56 non-state armed groups and seven state armed forces in 14 countries as guilty of recruiting children.
During 2017, more than 3,000 cases of child recruitment in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were verified, at least 19,000 under-18s are a part of deepening conflict in South Sudan and recruitment levels doubled in the Middle East.
The exploitation of girls is also becoming disturbingly common by armed groups.
Boko Haram used 83 children as ‘human bombs’ in the first eight months of 2017 and 66% of them were girls.
In DR Congo, the use of girls by armed groups is commonplace. Although most remain hidden from sight, it is estimated that up to 40% of all child soldiers in the Central African country are girls.
Child Soldiers International’s recent research detailed the shocking reality for girls associated with armed groups in DR Congo.
Of 150 girl interviewed, a majority had suffered horrendous sexual abuse and violence. Such experiences were compounded when the returned home as many were ostracised by their families, labelled ‘prostitutes’ by their communities.
Progress is being made though.
Child Soldiers International have worked with partners in DR Congo to develop a new Practical Guide, which is helping already improving community attitudes towards former girl soldiers.
With a dedicated National Action Group in the country already rolling out the initiatives in the guide – including schooling and supportive listening activities - positive change is happening. Girls now say that - rather than having no choice but to ‘return to the bush’ - they can build a new life. In fact, progress reported is such that Child Soldiers International is preparing to replicate this project elsewhere.
At the international level too, we have seen progress. 12 February 2018 marks 18 years since the adoption of OPAC – the international treaty which prohibits the conscription of children under the age of 18 and their participation in hostilities.
167 countries have now ratified the treaty – Central African Republic becoming the most recent signatory in September 2017 – while the release of more than 300 child soldiers in South Sudan this past week was much-welcomed news.
While the changing face of conflict continues to bring new challenges – not least the use of children by armed groups – we do know that the international community, state leaders, and the very communities affected by the recruitment of children still can do much, and still have the will, to stop the use of children in armed conflict.
What is needed now, is adequate resourcing to ensure protection in law for these children; safeguards to protect them in their communities; and opportunities which break the cycle of recruitment and re-recruitment. The solutions are complex, but we have seen that change is possible.
Together we can ensure that the use of child soldiers becomes an aberration of the past, and that no child is recruited for war.