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Children in Armed Conflict

CHILD Protection & Child Rights » Vulnerable Children » Children's Issues » Children in Armed Conflict


Children are affected by war and armed conflicts in two manners: they are vulnerable to the impact of war on their homes and families and are often recruited to be implements of the conflict in the form of child soldiers.

UNICEF discusses both groups: protecting children during armed conflict as well as children associated with armed groups. War and conflict leave populations of people vulnerable to extreme forms of violence. Children are affected by this break down of protection systems. They are vulnerable to rape, abduction, separation from their families, disabilities and grievous injuries, and long-term psychosocial effects. Children in conflict zones are at a risk for disease, displacement and death.

UNICEF defines a 'Child Soldier' as any person below the age of 18 that has been coerced or recruited by a regular or irregular armed group in any capacity; this includes cooks and messengers. It also includes girls who have been recruited during armed conflict for sexual purposes and marriage. Therefore is it not necessary that a child soldier be carrying or handle a weapon. Children join armed conflict cause of coercion or abduction or because of poverty, societal pressure, or to get revenge for violence committed against their families.

In 2009, UNICEF released a report concerning children in conflict areas. It discusses the changing face of armed conflict and war in the world today. There has been a decrease in inter-state conflict but conflicts within countries and across borders is on the rise, where the state is using paramilitary and proxy forces to fight these hidden wars and the armed forces have little accountability to the international community. Another significant change is the emergence and spread of resource wars such as with conflict diamonds. Since in 1990s there has been a sharp increase in international terrorism, where incidents have quadrupled between 2000 and 2004. A number of these attacks at aimed at children populations, use children as executors and restrict children's access to basic services. Another consequence of conflict has been the breakdown of community structures. Previously children and orphans relied on their communities for support, but with the coming of war families are barely able to take care of their own, leaving other children even more vulnerable. With these changes the only constant has been the risk to children in conflict areas. He report outlines six grave violations against children: "killing or maiming children; recruitment or use of child soldiers; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape and other grave sexual violence; abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access." Other effects include, torture, hazardous work, enforced disappearance, administrative detention, sexual exploitation and abuse, etc.

UNICEF estimates that 1 billion children live in areas affected by armed conflicts, out of 300 million are under the age of five. In 2006, it was estimated at 18.1 million children have been displaced from their homes. As seen the conflict in the Democratic republic of Congo, children are more susceptible to death due to disease and malnutrition that are a by product of war. Out of the 5.4 million deaths on record, more than half were children, though children only account for one fifth of the population. 90% of deaths during conflicts are civilians. Of those 80% are women and children. 32% of children in conflict areas are underweight. 60 million of children of age are out of primary school. The average infant mortality rate of children under five in conflict areas is 81 per 1000 live births.

One of the grave violations of child rights in conflict areas is the use of child soldiers. UNICEF estimates that in 2005 there were 250,000 children serving as child soldiers. In 2008, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers released a global report. Child soldiers are mainly found in non-state armed groups but there are some cases where children are recruited into government forces. The report claims that one cannot accurate count the number of child soldiers but estimates tens of thousands of them are active today. Girl child soldiers are often used in both combat and non-combat roles. They are subjected to rape and other violent sexual offences. The number of girls affected by disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs is minimal. In many countries children who are suspected to have been involved in armed conflict have been detained and tortured. There are still 63 countries that allow for the voluntary recruitment of people below the age of 18 including developed countries like Australia, United Kingdom and United States.

In India the voluntary recruitment age is seventeen years and six months. Though there is no official information about children being recruited into the military forces there are allegations that children have been recruited into government-supported anti-Maoist village defence forces. Armed Conflicts in India are found in three major regions, the Maoist and security forces conflict concentrated in tribal communities of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand; the Jammu and Kashmir conflict zone, and conflicts in the northeast states Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura. Though the age limit for serving in a military force is seventeen years and six months, many military prep schools such as Rashtriya Indian Military College and The National Cadet Corps recruit children between the ages of 11 years 6 months and 13 years. The lack of proper birth registration or age proving documents doesn't allow for the elimination of child soldiers as often the age of a recruit cannot be correctly determined.

There has been evidence that a number of children were detained in conflict areas. There have been cases of children being detained under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978. In Manipur the absence of a observation home for juveniles under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 has allowed armed forces to detain children in anti-insurgency operations, registering cases against them and placing them in adult detention centres. In 2005, in Chhattisgarh, there was a report of police firing on a group of young persons who had be abducted by Maoist: they ended up killing three boys whose age was uncertain, and bodies disposed off by the police, and detaining two girls first in Jagdalpur hospital and then Jagdalpur Central Jail.

There is recruitment of children found in the three conflict areas and by state-backed village defence forces. In 2005 in Chattisgarh the government set up the Salwa Judum campaign. Special police officers were recruited from this group to join village defence forces and trained and provided arms by official state forces. A number of cases of children under the age of 18 have been found to be recruited as special police officers. There have also been reported cases of Maoist recruitment of child soldiers. Children are mostly taken from schools without their parents consent and majority are illiterate and come from tribal populations. The police in Jammu and Kashmir claim 200 children went missing in 2004 and were allegedly recruited into armed forces. Children are mainly recruited from schools and mosques. Lack of education and employment opportunities is said to be the leading cause for children to join such conflict groups. Children are often uses are messengers and couriers. In Doodipora, Handwara, on 22 February 2006 soldiers fired shots into a group of child cricketers in play. They claimed there were militants among the group and hence ended up killing four boys, one who was only eight years old. In the north-east states there are only anecdotal evidence of child soldiers. Decades of conflict in the area has created a culture of violence which makes it easy to recruit children who want to handle weapons and fight. Teenagers have been reported ferrying grenades and throwing explosives for non-state forces.

The Asian Centre for Human Right's 2003 report on the status of India's children found that the main problem in India is impunity. Armed forces are protected by law allowing for a number of cases of rape and disappearance to go un-punished. The report also outlines abuses committed by opposition groups such as murder and rape. For example in July of 2007 in Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir alleged members of group Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami barged into Nissar Hussain's house inquiring about him. When they were not satisfied with the answers the beat the members of the family killing their nine-year old daughter Nazia.

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