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Facts and figures on child soldiers

Victim and Perpetrator in one

Thousands of children are fighting in wars and armed conflicts around the world. This includes both girls and boys in Latin America, Africa and Asia and also in Europe. The largest number of child soldiers, however, are in Africa. According to UN estimates there are over 100.000, particularly in Uganda, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. Kindernothilfe is a member of the alliance "Deutsche Koordination Kindersoldaten", the German branch of the International Coalition to stop the Use of Child Soldiers. It also supports projects for former child soldiers.

Kindersoldaten in UgandaChild Soldier in Uganda. Picture: dpa 
Most of the children and young people involved in about 20 conflicts around the world are not fighting in government armies, but in other armed groups. Many of them are recruited by force, but others join voluntarily because they see no other alternative than to join. The reasons for "volunteering" are a shortage of jobs or education opportunities or to escape from domestic violence. Revenge also plays an important role when a family member loses his/her life in an armed conflict.

Sexual Abuse
The life child soldiers lead is tough and dangerous: They are used as messengers, bearers and spies. They have to place explosives and learn how to use pistols and rifles. Girls are often forced to satisfy the sexual needs of the soldiers in the camp. Child Soldiers are not only victims in armed conflicts - they are at the same time perpetrators. During their training, they often have to kill friends or members of their own families in order to "harden up". Children are also used as soldiers because they are more docile than adults and it is easier to train them to kill. This often happens under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Children have to struggle for the rest of their life to come to terms with the effects of physical and psychological acts of cruelty.

Rights and Reality
"Every child has the right of protection from armed conflicts" according to article 38 of the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child (pdf, 1 MB) which was adopted on 20 November 1989 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Almost all countries in the world have ratified it and thus undertaken to comply with it. On the 25 May 2000 the UN General Assembly added a so-called optional protocol to the convention. It came into force on the 12 February 2002 and forbids governments and armed groups to recruit children and young people under 18 for armed conflicts. Nevertheless, government armies are allowed to continue to recruit 16 year old volunteers. So far, more than 100 countries have ratified this convention. Nevertheless children are still being used as soldiers, for example in Rwanda, Uganda, Afghanistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Willy-Brandt-Gesamtschule, Köln: Aktion zum Red Hand DayEvent on Red Hand Day. Picture: KNH 
12 February: Red Hand Day
The optional protocol to the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child came into force on the 12 February 2002. Since then, this day has become the international day against the use of child soldiers and is also called "Red Hand Day". The red hand means: Stop! Children and young people under 18 are no longer allowed to be recruited and used in wars. The red hand is a symbol of a global campaign "Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers", which is also used by the German alliance "Deutsche Koordination Kindersoldaten". Through numerous action events particularly on this day, non-governmental organisations draw attention to the situation of child soldiers and demand the following:

Demands on Governments and the UN-Security Council

The political goodwill of states is important, but the pressure from non-governmental organisations plays an equally important role. The International Coalition for the Prohibition of Child Soldiers and its German branch will not cease to denounce the abuse of children and young people as well as to campaign for their demobilisation and for help to be provided for their rehabilitation and re-integration into society.

Shadow report child soldiers 2007 (pdf, 845 KB)


UN-Child Rights Convention (pdf, 114 KB)


Booklet: The Individual complaints procedure (700 KB)


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