A first-ever online database on child soldiers, launched today (21 February 2018), maps the shocking scale of child exploitation by armed forces and non-state armed groups around the world. 

The Child Soldiers World Index, developed by human rights group Child Soldiers International, is the first comprehensive worldwide resource on child recruitment.

Shining a light in the dark corners of child recruitment, the World Index exposes the true extent of child exploitation by both state armed forces and non-state armed groups. It shows how the systematic abuse of child rights continues unabated in many places around the world including countries often untouched by international media attention.  

Covering all 197 UN Members States, the World Index, which includes more than 10,000 data points, will include authoritative data on national laws, policies and child recruitment practices worldwide. 

Since the adoption of OPAC – the child soldier treaty – in 2000, 167 states have now banned the use of children in armed conflict and at least 85 criminalise child recruitment.  

However, the World Index shows that children have been used in war in at least 18 countries since 2016.

The sexual, physical and psychological abuse of children in conflict remains shockingly prevalent. The use of children, including large numbers of girls, as ‘human bombs’ is one alarming new trend. Meanwhile abduction, detention and torture of children continue in numerous conflicts.

Strikingly, more than 20% of the 197 UN Member States still enlist children into their militaries, including 17 states which enlist as young as 16.

This deliberate targeting of children for military recruitment violates states’ legal duties under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Research has shown that children who are recruited into military and armed groups suffer serious and long-term harm, even when they are not used in war.

It is why Child Soldiers International is calling for all countries to adopt a ‘Straight-18’ standard for military recruitment and to establish concrete policies which ensure no child is recruited for war.

The World Index also plots key developments in international policies and treaties and documents the international criminal cases relating to the recruitment and use of children. 

The launch of the World Index coincides with an event at the United Nations in New York marking 18 years since the adoption of the international child soldier treaty.

Bringing together governments, international bodies and human rights groups, the event – organised by Child Soldiers International together with UNICEF and the UN Missions of Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France and Sierra Leone – will celebrate efforts made since the adoption of OPAC and set the agenda for future action.

Great progress has been made since OPAC’s adoption and the UN has helped free more than 115,000 child soldiers since 2000, but tens of thousands continue to be exploited.

With 15% of countries still to ratify OPAC and children continuing to be exploited by armed groups and militaries across the world, there is still a long way to go before the recruitment of children becomes a thing of the past.

Child Soldiers World Index – at a glance:

  • Recruitment practices of 197 UN Member States mapped online for the first time
  • 109 countries have a ‘Straight-18’ policy for military recruitment in practice, meaning a minimum age of 18 for enlistment as well as deployment
  • 46 States (23%) still recruit under-18s into their armed forces in practice
  • Children have been used in hostilities, by both state armed forces and non-state armed groups, in at least 18 conflicts since 2016
  • At least 85 countries criminalise the recruitment of children by non-state armed groups and/or state armed forces
  • 27 countries operate so-called ‘military schools’ where children – in some cases as young as 15 - are classified as members of the armed forces and are compelled to enlist after graduation
  • Since it was adopted in 2000, 167 countries have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (‘OPAC’) – the child soldier treaty - 30 have yet to do so
  • The United States of America is the only UN member state not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child

For media inquiries contact Chris Matthews on [email protected] / +44 7849 368 429.