Recruiting children for military purposes is harmful for a number of reasons.

Children’s development, health and well-being are disrupted when they are drawn into military organisations. Recruited children, particularly those used in armed violence, run a high risk of being killed or maimed, and of suffering serious psychological and social problems afterwards. Some children can be tremendously resourceful in finding ways to cope, but they should not have to face risks such as these.

Witnessing killing, and especially taking part in it, is particularly harmful to a child, who is still developing psychologically and emotionally. Children associated with military forces also face a higher risk of being sexually abused by adults or other children in their military group. Such traumatic events can disrupt children’s development, staying with them for the rest of their lives.

In some cases, children are recruited but not normally used in armed conflict until they turn 18, as is the case in at least 43 states worldwide and in some non-state armed groups. But even when children are not used in war, recruiting them is harmful:

  • Military training is designed to break children down psychologically until they obey commands without question, which can alter their personality in the long term.
  • Bullying, physical violence and sexual harassment are common in a military environment.
  • In most cases, child recruits are bound by military regulations that would be unlawful in civilian employment, and which can leave them with no right to leave for several years.
  • Usually, recruiters target children from disadvantaged communities and troubled family backgrounds, particularly for frontline roles carrying the greatest risks once recruits turn 18 and can be sent to war.

In addition, it is common for recruiters to glamorise military life without fully informing children of the risks and legal obligations involved.

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