SEATTLE, WA — Thousands of children are recruited all over the world to take part in armed conflicts. Often referred to as child soldiers, they are usually abducted by state or non-state armed groups and forced to take part as fighters, cooks, suicide bombers, human shields or are sexually exploited. Child soldiers are forcefully recruited through abduction, coercion, exploitation and manipulation by armed forces. Other times, children become soldiers in order to escape poverty or defend their communities. Regardless of the reason, the recruitment of children for armed conflicts violates child rights and international humanitarian law. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, there has been an increase in the number of children fighting in armed conflicts.
COVID-19 and the Recruitment of Child Soldiers
With COVID-19 impacting people’s livelihoods, health and food security, more children are vulnerable to humanitarian crises due to the poverty caused by the pandemic, according to the United Nations. Despite efforts to combat the use of child soldiers during COVID-19 in 2020, there were at least 14 countries responsible for using children as armed soldiers. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Somalia and Syria currently have the largest number of child soldiers. While the exact number is unknown, there were at least “7,740 children, some as young as six,” recruited and used as soldiers around the world in 2019 alone.
While the United Nations pushed a pandemic ceasefire, armed forces have continued fighting. The pandemic has reduced any efforts to protect children in these conflicted areas. Nevertheless, there has still been some progress in the fight against child soldier practices. In South Sudan, the number of violations against children being recruited as fighters has steadily decreased. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also convicted Dominic Ongwen, “a commander of Uganda Lord’s Resistance Army rebels and former child soldier, of dozens of crimes.”
Ending the Use of Child Soldiers During COVID-19
There are numerous nonprofit organizations that contribute to ending the use of child soldiers.
- Save the Children helps children all over the world escape poverty and humanitarian crises.
- UNICEF USA is working to free child soldiers. It has helped save more than 8,000 children since 2017. It also helps the children reintegrate into regular lives.
- Peace Direct supports local people rescuing children from a lifetime of killing and reunites them with their families. In 2019, Peace Direct supported more than 28,000 people.
- Other organizations, such as War Child, help children rehabilitate and integrate back into society after their lives in armed conflicts.
Save the Children is a nonprofit organization founded in 1919. Founder Eglantyne Jeff strongly believed that children should “have the right to grow up healthy, educated and safe.” It has made an impact on the lives of more than one billion children all over the world. The organization rescued 197 million children. Save the Children has worked in places facing crisis, war and famine such as Venezuela, Syria and Myanmar. The organization ranks high among other nonprofit organizations because of its dedication to rescuing and helping children in vulnerable communities.
How People Can Help
There are numerous ways that people can get involved to help prevent and rescue child soldiers during COVID-19. One of the ways to help is to advocate for these children and educate others about child soldiers. Donating and creating fundraisers can also be instrumental tools in helping prevent the practice of child soldiers. With continued support, child soldiers can become stories of the past.