Girl Child Soldiers
Table of Contents
Who is a Child Soldier?
The Cape Town Principles define a child soldier as any person under 18 years who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force in any capacity. This encompasses but is not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups other than family members. The definition also includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms. Application of this broad definition is important: possession of a weapon is not a prerequisite for a child soldier to benefit from the demobilization and reintegration process.Cape Town Principles and Best Practices on the Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and on Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa. Cape Town, 27-30 April 1997.
The issue of girl child soldiers has somehow not been given the attention it deserves, in spite of the fact that the Beijing Declaration recognised the effects of armed conflict on women and girl children as a critical area of concern, and the Platform of Action included specific objectives for their protection and participation.
Reports by organisations such as those by Save the Children and Rights and Democracy suggest that among the 300,000 children under the age of 18 who today are fighting in armed conflicts in more than thirty countries of the world, about 40% are girls.
The Save the Children report says improvements need to be made in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR). It says often the post-conflict programs do not address the needs of girls and concentrate more on the number of weapons turned in. The Rights and Democracy report says that girls have been part of government militia or opposition fighting forces in more than 50 countries over recent years.
The use of children as soldiers has become a common feature of armed conflicts in every region of the world. In case studies from El Salvador , Ethiopia , and Uganda , it was found that reportedly a third of child soldiers were girls. While girl soldiers are most commonly used by armed opposition groups, in many places they are also recruited – voluntarily or forcibly – into government armed forces.
Not all children end up in the front line – many are used as spies and porters, as ‘safe’ carriers for bombs and even sexual slaves. Their involvement puts other children at risk as everyone becomes an object of suspicion and a potential target. Many suffer physical abuse and other privations – in extreme cases, child soldiers are driven to suicide or murder when they cannot bear the mistreatment any longer.
While child soldiers are often forcibly recruited, often it is poverty, propaganda and alienation that drives them into armies, paramilitaries and militias. Many join armed groups because they have experienced abuses against their families and communities by the state security forces. Research has shown that the overwhelming majority in almost every armed conflict are drawn from the poorest, least educated and most marginalized sections of society. Those separated from their families or with disrupted family backgrounds, particularly among refugees and the displaced, are especially at risk. The same factors that make girls vulnerable to other forms of child abuse and exploitation also lead them into child soldiering – hence the need for common strategies for prevention and protection.
On 26 January 2009, the International Criminal Court International Criminal Court (ICC) and Gender opened its first trial in the case of The Prosecutor vs. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was the first person charged in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) situation as well as the Court’s first detainee. He is accused of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen and using them to participate actively in hostilities. To follow the trial through the eyes of Congolese civil society, the Coalition for the ICC (CICC) has launched a blog on the trial (see www.iccnow.org/blog).
- Because I am a Girl: In the shadow of war 2008
- Violence against women
- Gender violence
- Women, Peace and Security
- BBC News (2004), “Use of girl soldiers condemned”
- University of Essex Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers (n.d.) “GIRLS WITH GUNS : AN AGENDA ON CHILD SOLDIERS FOR “BEIJING PLUS FIVE””
- Coalition for the International Criminal Court
- Girl Child Soldiers- The Other Face of Sexual Exploitation & Gender Violence: Journal of the USAFA
- Former Girl Child Soldier Speaks Out: UNICEF
- The Suffering of the Girl Soldier: UN