Ten years after the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, states are failing to fulfil their obligation to protect children from the risk of involvement in armed conflict. 20 states have used children in hostilities since 2010. Children are at risk of use by armed forces and allied armed groups in many more. In a major new report “Louder than words: An agenda for action to end state use of child soldiers”, Child Soldiers International calls for a new effort to prevent recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.

'We see a disturbing pattern in which a number of states involved in long-running conflicts have made little or no progress in ending child soldier use. In new conflicts, child soldier use has quickly become a feature. It is time to rethink strategies to end the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, with much more emphasis on prevention' said Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International. 'There is a worrying protection deficit; our analysis of more than 100 “conflict” and “non-conflict” states reveals that in many cases, national laws, policies and practices are inadequate to ensure that children do not become involved in hostilities on the side of states.'

With this new report, Child Soldiers International introduces a ten-point checklist to assist states, the UN and other actors in assessing where and why children are at risk of use in hostilities in armed forces for which states are responsible and to identify what measures can be taken to reduce these risks.

Many factors can make girls and boys vulnerable to use in hostilities by state armed forces and allied armed groups, but it is the fact of recruitment – whether voluntary, compulsory or forced, formal or informal, lawful or unlawful – which ultimately makes their use possible. Ending all military recruitment of children is the only sure way of ending their involvement in hostilities.

For many states, irregular recruitment practices, lack of birth documentation, absence of age verification procedures, poor oversight and accountability are widespread, and mean that barriers to underage recruitment are weak or non-existent. Where this is the case there is little to stop children from becoming involved either in on-going hostilities or new hostilities when they break out.

'For child soldier prevention strategies to be effective, states and other stakeholders must look more closely at how children are recruited to identify risks and then invest resources up front to reduce these risks. Moreover, increased international attention must be given to non-conflict states to ensure that protection mechanisms are in place before the possibility of use arises.'

Similar preventative measures and monitoring need to be employed to address the responsibility of states with regard to child soldier recruitment and use by armed groups to which they are allied, such as irregular paramilitaries, “self-defence” militias or foreign armed groups enjoying military or other forms of support from governments and/or fighting on their behalf.

It is clear that many states cannot get to grips with their child soldier problem without significant reform of armies and other security institutions. 'The potential of Security Sector Reform support to contribute to regularising recruitment processes, establishing age verification procedures and strengthening monitoring and accountability for unlawful child soldier recruitment and use is enormous but under-utilised. Child rights and security sector reform stakeholders must start working together as part of comprehensive prevention strategies.'

The international community has invested heavily in the children and armed conflict agenda in the last decade, concentrating its resources and attention in removing children already involved in armed conflict. But that approach should be extended upstream to include an explicitly preventive agenda.

'Waiting for the next conflict to break out to find out whether under-18s may be vulnerable to military use places children at unnecessary and unacceptable risk. If children‟s involvement in armed conflict is truly to be eradicated, this type of preventative work must be a central part of the children and armed conflict agenda. We encourage governments to use next week‟s Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict to support the adoption of preventative measures to address child recruitment and use.'