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Child Soldiers: Childhood’s End

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    International law has found itself unable to offer a proper definition of a “child”, affecting particularly the field of international human rights law as well as refugee law. Looking through treaties or other reports regarding international NGOs we find the word under different forms like “young person”, “minors”, “juveniles”, but there is no further description. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights offers a clarification on this matter, affirming in paragraph 4 of its General Comment on Article 24 that “the right to special measures of protection belongs to every child because of his status as a minor. Nevertheless, the Covenant does not include the age at which he attains his majority. This is to be determined by each State party in the light of the relevant social and cultural conditions.” States are, therefore, free to offer their own parameters in defining “a child”, the exact age when a person gains not only his majority but his criminal responsibility as well.

    However, the state needs to respect certain criteria and it can not abuse of its power. The Committee notes that “the age for the above purpose should not be set unreasonably low and that in any case a State party cannot absolve itself from its obligations under the Covenant regarding persons under the age of 18, notwithstanding that they have reached the age of majority under domestic law.” The importance of setting strict parameters is reaffirmed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, stating that “a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” Nonetheless, offering States the freedom of change, increases instability in the field of international humanitarian law. During the history we have seen numerous examples where children were recruited in the army at a very young age, motivated by the national law as gaining majority when 15 years old. The current legislation is nothing but a fertile soil for low income countries to abuse the freedom given by the international law and continue using children in military purposes. Another important fact that needs to be stated is how certain states use the human evolution factor to manipulate and convince others that majority could be subject to change and adjust the increasing intelligence of the children nowadays, lowering therefore the age of majority.

    Defining a CHILD SOLDIER

    Rome principles offers a pertinent definition of child soldiers, which is, of course, subject to many critics and interpretations under the international humanitarian law:  A child associated with an armed force or armed group” refers to any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities. Even though talking about a sensitive subject as “child soldiers” is difficult enough, the international law does not seem to make things easier. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child offers a clear cut defining a child a person under the age of eighteen, but it becomes more complicated when reading Article 38 and its provisions: States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities.

    States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of 15 years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of 15 years but who have not attained the age of 18 years, States Parties shall endeavor to give priority to those who are oldest. Whilst the first article on the Convention is more flexible in order to attract more states to adhere and adopt it, the last 2 provisions mentioned are inserted into the text with the scope of allowing upward manipulation of the age of majority and encouraging more states to support the recruitment of child soldiers at a very early age. The recruitment of child soldiers Nowadays, and seventy years after the WWII has been over, the problem of child soldiers continue to survive. If children were used mainly by the state forces at the end of the war, today the main recruiters are the non-state actors which tend to recruit children more than they ever did before.

    Paris Principles distinguishes between the definition of “recruitment” as “compulsory, forced and voluntary conscription or enlistment of children into any kind of armed force or armed group” and the “unlawful recruitment or use” which is defined as “recruitment or use of children under the age stipulated in the international treaties applicable to the armed force or armed group in question or under applicable national law.” The factors that determine states or non-state groups to recruit children are multiple. Recruited as early as the age of four or in their late seventeens, there is no distinction between boys and girls. This concludes that the purposes for abducting children are many and they are not only military. Some are forced to kill, while others are used as messengers, spies, cooks, or for sexual reasons. In this part of the paper we will be analyzing the phenomena of child soldiers from the two actors involved: the recruiters and the recruited.

    The recruiters Children are often recruited by military organizations most of the times because they are easier than adults to be manipulated and they are more compliant. Many of the children are abducted by force and they are sent directly into the fire line. Habitually they are taken right from the streets or from their own houses, when non-state armed groups invade and take over cities and villages. In the last decades manpower has been severely affected by the long conflicts in areas like Middle East or other countries from the African continent such as Somalia, Sierra Leone or Democratic Republic of Congo. Therefore, combatants were forced to turn to children to fill the ranks. The World Bank estimates that the average length of internal conflicts since 1945 is seven years and their duration has tended to increase. As these conflicts drag on, there is an increasing need to fill the gap with young children who are not only cheap, but also easy to manipulate. The size of weapons plays an important role in child conscription as well. The weapons used by the combatants have considerably downsized making them more and more suitable for children and transforming them into more effective combatants.

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    Child Soldiers: Childhood’s End. (2022, Mar 24). Retrieved from

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