Children associated with armed forces or groups can run a high risk of arbitrary detention and imprisonment, leading to deep and lasting harm.

The issue

When captured, children associated with armed groups are frequently detained and interrogated for long periods of time for intelligence-gathering purposes. In some countries, they are arrested for being members of illegal organisations. Sometimes children who escape from state armed forces are arrested as deserters.

Detained children are already vulnerable as a consequence of joining a military organisation. When imprisoned, particularly by an opposing party in a violent conflict, they may be at risk of torture, sexual abuse, and other ill-treatment, and may be separated from their families and communities for a long time.

Our impact

Child Soldiers International is mindful of these risks and systematically integrates child detention in its research and advocacy with governments. In Democratic Republic of Congo we have called for an end to the detention of children suspected of association with armed groups by the armed forces and National Intelligence Agency. In Chad, we raised concerns when the authorities detained children who had been freed from Boko Haram, and children formerly associated with Séléka groups in Central African Republic. In Myanmar, we have called for an end to the detention of child “deserters”. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where young people are often detained by the Israeli Defence Forces for engaging in street protests, we are supporting children to use their creative talents to engage in positive and peaceful forms of activism.

What can be done

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments must ensure that children are only ever detained lawfully, as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Child Soldiers International advocates for practical changes in law and policy in order to reduce the arbitrary and unlawful detention of children associated with armed forces or groups.

The risks to children in detention are increasingly gaining international attention. In 2014, the UN commissioned a global study on children deprived of liberty which includes a focus on the specific risks facing children formerly associated with armed forces or groups. 

Photo © Kiana Hayeri/Child Soldiers International