This 2004 Global Report documents child recruitment policies and practices in 196 countries and territories. It reviews trends and developments related to the use of child soldiers since the publication of the last global report in 2001, and highlights failures – by the international community, governments and armed groups – to protect children’s fundamental human rights.
Despite near-universal condemnation hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in almost every major conflict in the world. This report documents information on more than 20 countries and territories where armed hostilities occurred between April 2001 and March 2004. It has found that government forces in at least 10 continued to use children on the frontlines, including in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Myanmar.
Some governments which did not directly recruit children nevertheless backed paramilitary groups, militias and local defence groups which used children to fight and to kill, to commit human rights abuses against civilians, or to loot and destroy property. Those using these unofficial forces included Colombia and Zimbabwe. At least six governments claiming to have ended child recruitment, continued to deploy children to gather intelligence, and to act as messengers or scouts, directly exposing them to the hazards of war or to violent reprisals if identified by opposing groups. Governments have ruthlessly targeted children suspected of membership of armed political groups.
This shameful abuse of children persists.
So what needs to be done? This report urges the UN Security Council to ensure that its “naming and shaming” of those using child soldiers in armed conflicts is followed by decisive action. It advocates the prosecution of child recruiters by the International Criminal Court and other justice mechanisms, for restrictions on military assistance and weapons trading, travel restrictions, asset freezing or other sanctions. Concerned governments must support dialogue between warring parties, and peace agreements should include specific provisions for reintegrating and rehabilitating former child soldiers. DDR programs for child soldiers must be adequately funded and sensitively constructed, to ensure that the specific needs of boys and girls are addressed.
Children’s rights to protection from grave threats to their life and health, to family life and education, and to freedom from sexual and economic exploitation must be actively promoted. War-affected children should be closely involved in peace processes and decision-making
which affect their lives. The international community and individual governments must renew their commitment to the demobilization and reintegration process. The campaign for universal ratification and enforcement of international treaties protecting children, and for governments to ban all recruitment of under-18s into any armed force, must continue.