A selection of news stories concerning child soldiers which have appeared in international media over the past month.

Central African Republic ratifies OPAC

The Central African Republic took a significant step to end child recruitment this past month as it became the 167th country to ratify OPAC and has set 18 as the minimum recruit age into its state armed forces.

“I commend this milestone for the Central African Republic and encourage the government to pursue its actions to protect the boys and girls of CAR, prevent any further recruitment and use by parties to conflict and adopt legislation criminalizing the recruitment and use of children,” the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba said.

The announcement comes a few months after the president of the CAR Parliament pledged that he would use his office to strengthen the protection of children through adopting legislation prohibiting the recruitment and use of children.

Child Soldiers International have been working with the CAR government and provided advice on the ratification process. We continue to support the government in the finalisation of its Child Protection Code, which we anticipate will effectively criminalise the recruitment of all children under the age of 18. This will be one of the next steps for the government in implementing their obligations under OPAC.

Nigeria’s CJTF sign UN Action Plan to end child recruitment

September saw the Civilian Joint Taskforce (CJTF) in north-east Nigeria sign a UN Action Plan to end the recruitment and use of children.

The CJTF, a local defence group formed in 2013 to support Nigerian security forces fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in the region, was in 2016 listed in the UN Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict for recruiting and using children.

Since then, the UN has been working with the group, which also provides security at IDP camps locally, to put in place measures to stop underage recruitment and ensure the release of all minors within its ranks.

“We have seen too many childhoods destroyed by the crisis in the northeast,” Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, said. “Today’s agreement is an important milestone for child protection and paves the way for a brighter future for children caught up in the conflict.”

Child soldier recruits double in one year in Middle East and North Africa

The Guardian reported on new UN analysis revealing the number of children recruited to fight in conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa has more than doubled in a year.

Continuing conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Iraq has created a proliferation of child soldiers in the region with minors used as guards, porters, messengers and cooks as well as for combat roles.

The number of children actively recruited into fighting rose from 576 in 2014 to 1,168 in 2015, according to verified UN figures.

“With no end in sight to these conflicts and with families’ dwindling financial resources, many have no choice but to send their children to work or marry their daughters early,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s regional director. “The number of children affiliated with the fighting has more than doubled.”

Mass graves, missing bodies, and mysticism: Inside Congo’s spiralling Kasai conflict

Ongoing violence in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region has killed more than 3,000, displaced 1.4 million and created unprecedented levels of child recruitment, the United Nations’ mission in the country (MONUSCO) has said.

An in-depth look at the simmering conflict in the Central African country by IRIN News lays bare the scale of the violence between the local Kamuina Nsapu armed group and government forces.

The Kamuina Nsaupu are believed to have sent thousands of children into battle and Maman Sidikou, the MONUSCO chief, noted that the level of child recruitment in Kasai “has never been so extensive in the DRC.”

In the shadow of Kasai, armed violence is on the increase in South Kivu

The city of Mboko has been under the control of the Mai Mai group Yakutumba de la Coalition nationale du peuple pour la souveraineté du Congo (CNPSC) since 24 September as have several other areas in the Fizi region.

On Wednesday evening the armed group advanced towards the city of Uvira, near the Burundian border. Fighting between the group and the national armed forces is ongoing.

Parents have already started to withdraw their children from school in Uvira, and school activities in Mboko have been suspended since Sunday.

Somali teenagers flee Al-Shabab recruitment campaign

Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab are undertaking a new recruitment drive of child combatants in the country, according to government officials quoted in Voice of America.

 The recruitment push is focused in the southwest regions of Bay and Bakool, according to Bay governor Ali Wardhere Doyow.

"They have been holding meetings for clan elders and told them to meet specific numbers of recruits they want collected from clans," Doyow said.

In 2016, UNICEF estimated there were at least 5,000 underage soldiers in the country, most of them recruited into al-Shabab. The recruitment drive appears to have now increased with dozens of children fleeing the area, according to VoA.

Abdishakur Yaqub Ibrahim, a regional lawmaker in the southwest, told VoA: "They told the elders that if a family has two sons, they will draft one as a militant; if they have three, they will take two of them," Ibrahim said. "They are saying they will educate the children, but they are going to turn them into bombs."

Myanmar judge skips bail ruling in ex-child soldier trial

The judge at the trial of former child soldier Aung Ko Htwe failed to rule on his request for bail, despite motioning at a previous hearing on 8 September that she would pass judgment on bail at the 18 September court appearance.

The judge reportedly said she would delay deciding on the bail request until she had read the opposing arguments of the government’s legal counsel, Myanmar’s DVB reported.

Htwe, who spent nearly a decade as a child soldier in the Myanmar army, was arrested in August after sharing his experiences in an interview with Radio Free Asia.

He is charged under Section 505(b) of the country’s Penal Code for giving information that ‘may cause public fear or alarm and incite people to commit offenses against the state’.

We spoke to Frontier Myanmar about the case earlier this month. Htwe’s next court appearance is scheduled for 2 October.

September by numbers