Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Worst Form of Child Labor: Child Soldiers

Child Soldier in Burma
The Myanmar Armed Forces discharged 42 children from its ranks on July 7th, due to pressure from the United Nations. The UN hailed this action as a positive step for the country towards its integration into the International Community and compliance with human rights standards. However, this is a small step compared to Myanmar's history of use of child soldiers. Myanmar is the only country in the region in which the government run armed forces forcibly recruit child soldiers into the army; children between the ages of 12-16 year old. Johnny and Luther Htoo, twin brother who jointly led the God's Army Guerrilla group, were estimated to have been ten years old when they began leading the group in 1997. According to Human Right's Watch,  as many as 70,000 boys serve in the national military, the Tatmandaw, which children as young as 11. Further, there are 5,000-7,000 children serving in ethnic opposition militias.

Girl Soldier in Burma

What is Child Soldering?

Child Soldiering is a manifestation of human trafficking when it involves the unlawful recruitment or use of children through force, fraud or coercion, as combatants or for labor or sexual exploitation by armed forces. The perpetrators of human trafficking are government forces, paramilitary organizations, and rebel groups. 
Children are abducted from their homes and villages to be used as combatants, porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, and spies. Girls are often forced to marry or have sex with male combatants. Orphans, refugees, and other displaced children are particularly at risk. They are brutally indoctrinated in order to ensure complete loyalty, threatened with death or dismemberment if they do't fight, and forced to kill friends who try to escape.
Over 300,000 children are serving as a child soldiers. According to the Asian Wall Street Journal, a third of those children are in Asia. The reason that children are used as soldiers is because their age lends them to be 
Child Soldiers in Filipino Rebel Force
extremely obedient. They can be forced to become dependent on the military, they are young enough to be brainwashed, they are cheaper to feed than regular soldiers, and are often more fearless than their older 
counterparts, and therefore willing to risk more in battle. Further, opposing armies are less likely to harm children.

In the Philippines, children are recruited by rebel forces for service in the army, most notably for the new People's Army, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Moro National Liberation Front. An estimated 13% of the 10,000 soldiers in the Moro National Liberation Front are children.

In Sri Lanka, thousands of children are thought to be  in the ranks of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elem 
(LTTE), a rebel group categorized as a terrorist organization by most of the world's government. Sri Lankan 
soldiers nicknamed one of LTTE's units the Baby Battalion, due to the amount of child soldiers serving in its 
ranks. Thanks to international pressure, however, the LTTE promised to discharge all soldiers under 18 by 2007. However, Karuka Group, a splinter group, now has begun recruiting child soldiers. 
Children in the LTTE in Sri Lanka


There are significant ramifications for child soldiers. Often, when arrested, children are charged as adults and treated as war criminals, despite the age that they had been when they committed many of the war atrocities. Beyond legal ramifications, there are significant emotional and physical consequences of child soldiering. Child soldiers are often wounded, disfigured, or killed. They suffer significant emotional trauma, and are often unable to adapt to the ordinary world. Further, many times they had missed out on education and opportunities to develop social and communication skills. They have often been exposed to HIV/AIDS, and in the case of the girls, pregnancy, and early motherhood.

Legal Instruments in Place

The International community has passed a significant amount of legislation to combat child soldiering. Some legislation are:
Optional Protocol to the Covenant on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict: Prohibits the forced recruitment of children under the age of 18 into governmental armed forces. Also requires Parties to criminalize the recruitment of children by non-state armed groups, such as rebel or separatist militias
ILO Convention 182: Defines he forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict as 'one of the worst forms of child labor'
Kimberly Process: An international effort to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the market; children are often used to protect and mine these diamonds.
Paris Commitment and Prevention on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups: A pledge from the international community to stop the forced recruitment of children into armed forces and to support their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.


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