The report is published every three to four years. Its 197 country entries document military recruitment legislation and practice, and child soldier use in hostilities by governments and armed groups across the globe. Each entry documents methods of recruitment, who recruits and what roles children play. It also provides information on the treatment of child soldiers captured by government forces and on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs for child soldiers where these have been put in place. The report’s 25-page introduction contains an analytical overview of developments over the last four years as well as discussing core themes and policy directions.
The report shows that while substantial attention and resources have been devoted to child soldiers internationally, the results to date fall far short of what might have been expected in since the last report was published in late 2004. Child soldiers continue to be used in armed conflicts by some governments. Governments also use captured children for intelligence gathering, or detain them rather than supporting their rehabilitation and reintegration. A wide array of armed groups – with diverse aims, methods and constituencies – continue to use children as soldiers and they have proved resistant to pressure or persuasion to stop the practice.
The report examines issues of justice and accountability in relation to child recruiters and begins to explore some of the issues involved. It highlights the problems associated with DDR in most countries. Girls in particular continue to be excluded from official programs – whether by design or default – despite well-documented information of their involvement in armed conflict and their need for DDR programs which respond to their particular needs. Programs to support the sustainable reintegration of former child soldiers have been inadequate and many returning children have received no support; and funding has been lacking in many cases.
A series of benchmarks for change over the next four years are included. If implemented they could bring real improvements to the lives and wellbeing of child soldiers. If change is to occur, however, innovative strategies will be needed to address this complex and enduring problem. These will require concerted efforts by a broad range of actors, including those involved in mediation, peace building and long-term development, working alongside those focusing on child protection, human rights and humanitarian assistance.