1/21/2015 The Use of Children as Soldiers in Africa report
The Use of Children as Soldiers in Africa
A country analysis of child recruitment and participation in armed
The purpose of this report is to document and assess the extent of the military recruitment of African children and their
use as soldiers in armed conflict. In particular, the report provides details of national legislation governing recruitment
into the armed forces, national recruitment practice (which, sadly, does not always conform to the prevailing legislation),
and, where armed conflict is ongoing, the extent of child participation in hostilities, whether as part of government
armed forces, governmentsponsored armed groups or militia, or nongovernmental armed groups or militia. It also
includes basic demographic data and information on the estimated size of governmental armed forces and non
governmental armed groups.
An attempt has been made to include relevant and accurate information on the situation in each African country. Every
effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in the report is correct as at the end of February 1999. In a
small number of cases information has proved impossible to obtain. Requests for information were sent to each of the
States referred to in this report via their Embassies in Europe or their Permanent Missions to the United Nations in
Geneva or New York. Where responses were received, these have been reflected in the report.
This report is being presented as a background document to the African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers,
which is taking place in Maputo, Mozambique, from 1922 April 1999. The Conference, which is being hosted by the
Mozambican government, is being organised jointly by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Save the
Children Alliance. The information contained in the report will subsequently be revised and updated based on
discussions at the Conference and the results integrated into a worldwide report on child recruitment and participation in
armed conflict to be published by the Coalition at the end of 1999. Similar research is being conducted into the military
recruitment of children and their use as soldiers in armed conflict in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Research for the report was coordinated by Joël Mermet, Researcher for the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
and the report was produced by Françoise Jaffré, Communication Officer of the Coalition. The Coalition actively seeks
comments on the information contained herein and welcomes any additional information, including when confidentiality
is requested by the source. Information received anonymously, however, will not be taken into consideration.
Coordinator of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
The Use of Child Soldiers in Africa: An Overview
Child Participation in Armed Conflict in Africa
The scope of the problem
Based on the information contained in this report, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers believes that more than
120,000 children under 18 years of age are currently participating in armed conflicts across Africa. Some of these
children are no more than 7 or 8 years of age. The countries most affected by this problem are: Algeria, Angola,
Burundi, CongoBrazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda.
Furthermore, Ethiopian government forces engaged in an armed conflict against Eritrea, and the clans in Somalia, have
both included an unknown, though probably not substantial, number of under18s in their ranks. In internal armed
conflicts in the Comoros, GuineaBissau, and Senegal, on the other hand, there has been little or no recorded use of
1/21/2015 The Use of Children as Soldiers in Africa report
under18s by government or armed opposition forces, and there are almost certainly no under15s participating in
hostilities in these three situations.1
The risks to children of participation in armed conflict
In addition to the obvious risks to children of participation in armed conflict — which apply equally to adults — children
are often at an added disadvantage as combatants. Their immaturity may lead them to take excessive risks — according
to one rebel commander in the Democratic Republic of Congo, "[children] make good fighters because they’re young and
want to show off. They think it’s all a game, so they’re fearless." Moreover, and as a result of being widely perceived to be
dispensable commodities, they tend to receive little or no training before being thrust into the front line. Reports from
Burundi and CongoBrazzaville suggest that they are often massacred in combat as a result.
Children may begin participating in conflict from as young as the age of seven. Some start as porters (carrying food or
ammunition) or messengers, others as spies. One rebel commander declared that: "They’re very good at getting
information. You can send them across enemy lines and nobody suspects them [because] they’re so young." And as soon as
they are strong enough to handle an assault rifle or a semiautomatic weapon (normally at 10 years of age), children are
used as soldiers. One former child soldier from Burundi stated that: "We spent sleepless nights watching for the enemy.
My first role was to carry a torch for grownup rebels. Later I was shown how to use hand grenades. Barely within a month
or so, I was carrying an AK47 rifle or even a G3."
When they are not actively engaged in combat, they can often be seen manning checkpoints; adult soldiers can normally
be seen standing a further 15 metres behind the barrier so that if bullets start flying, it is the children who are the first
victims. And in any given conflict when even a few children are involved as soldiers, all children, civilian or combatant,
come under suspicion. A recent military sweep in CongoBrazzaville, for instance, killed all "rebels who had attained the
‘age of bearing arms’."
Girls too are used as soldiers, though generally in much smaller numbers than boys. In Liberia, "[a]bout one per cent of
the demobilised child soldiers [in 19967] were girls or young women. But many more took part in one form or another
in the war. Like many males, females joined one of the factions for their own protection. (Un)willingly, they became the
girlfriends or wives of rebel leaders or members: ‘wartime women’ is the term they themselves use."
Concy A., a 14year old girl, was abducted from Kitgum in Uganda and taken to Sudan by the LRA. "In Sudan we were
distributed to men and I was given to a man who had just killed his woman. I was not given a gun, but I helped in the
abductions and grabbing of food from villagers. Girls who refused to become LRA wives were killed in front of us to serve
as a warning to the rest of us." The risks to these girls of sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies are
enormous. Grace A. gave birth on open ground to a girl fathered by one of her [LRA] rebel abductors. Then she was
forced to continue fighting. "I picked up a gun and strapped the baby on my back," the emaciated, now adult, 18yearold
recalled while nursing her scrawny baby. "But we were defeated by government forces, and I found a way to escape."
Girls are also the victims of child soldiers. In Algeria, a young woman from one of the villages where massacres had
taken place said that all of the killers were boys under 17. Some boys who looked to be around 12 decapitated a 15year
old girl and played ‘catch’ with the head.
The consequences for society
Atrocities have all too frequently been committed by child soldiers, sometimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol
which they may be forced to take. In Sierra Leone, for example, a journalist from the French newspaper Le Figaro
claimed that most of the rebels are children not older than 14, who are under the effect of drugs and alcohol. He reported
what one of them told him about torture they inflict on their victims: "at 2 p.m., they gouge out two eyes, at