It's Time to Rethink Child Soldiers
War Child's new report, Rethink Child Soldiers, outlines how current efforts to reintegrate ex-child soldiers back into communities aren't good enough.
A dramatic overhaul of funding and responses are needed to tackle the global use of children in armed groups.
It's time to rethink child soldiers.
Child soldiers are typically thought to exist primarily in Sub-Saharan African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But children are also recruited in countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Colombia and many others around the world.
Funding often reflects this false reality leaving big gaps in support.
Another stereotype is that recruits are forced into joining through abduction or seeking revenge.
But the fact is that many children join voluntarily, or because there’s high unemployment and poverty.
Current initiatives don’t do enough to address the root causes of recruitment or help non-combatant members leave groups before they become fighters.
Current Support is Insufficient
The reintegration and healing process required for an ex-child soldier must be stable and long-term.
Instead, funds and programmes can be irregular and short-term.
More importantly, children must be invited to participate to help us understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to reintegrating ex-child soldiers.
A former child soldier from the Central African Republic told us: "The quality and quantity of support provided is insufficient. It does not address the expectations or needs of the children in the group."
Programmes must accurately reflect the needs of children.
Current programmes that help ex-child soldiers focus on helping combatants.
But many boys and girls in armed groups do not carry weapons and occupy other roles.
Being a cook, messenger or porter for an armed group has consequences of its own; it can lead to children being stigmatised or isolated.
This can also be the first step for a child becoming a fighter.
Violent extremism and anti-terror laws in countries like Iraq make children associated with armed groups seen as threats, and not children that simply need help.
Children are more likely to be denied helped and treated like perpetrators, not victims, in these contexts.
Research from the University College London confirmed that this sort of exclusion of children, instead of helping them, actually increases an individual’s chances of engaging in violent extremism.
In other words, the current ways don’t work.
Children need to be properly reintegrated.
Children who are associated with armed groups have very different experiences.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer.
War Child's report, generously funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, calls on governments, donors, UN agencies and NGOs to move past basic stereotypes to increase better, long-term funding.
Only then can we truly help ex-child soldiers recover from their experiences.