Sexual abuse of children refers to any sexual act, or attempt at a sexual act, with a child, including through force, trickery or pressure of any form.

The issue

Sexual harassment and abuse is a universal problem within military organisations worldwide: the lowest-ranked, youngest recruits are at greatest risk. In general, girls are most at risk, but boys are also affected. The impact of sexual abuse on children can include severe physical injuries, reproductive difficulties and psychosocial and mental health problems.

Children in situations of armed conflict face particularly high risks of being sexually abused and exploited, particularly children who have been separated from their families and those who have been recruited and used for military purposes. When children have no immediate family support and the rule of law has broken down, they are extremely vulnerable to abuse. Sexualised abuse and exploitation can include harassment, rape, forced marriage and sexual slavery.

Our impact

Child Soldiers International aims to end all use, abuse and exploitation of children by state- and non-state military forces.

We monitor the behaviour of armed forces and groups and also train them in child protection. We have delivered training in Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.

We call for perpetrators to be held accountable. In May 2015, following allegations of child sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic, we called on the UN Secretary-General and the African Union to launch investigations into the reported events. The UN has since launched several investigations into child sexual abuse by its troops in the country.

We also continue to highlight and challenge the practice of bacha bazi, which literally means ‘boy play’ and involves the sexual abuse of young boys by military commanders and others in Afghanistan.

We have documented cases of sexual abuse of children by armed groups in the Indian state of Jharkhand and are building pressure for this practice to end.

What can be done?

The UN, national governments and international military alliances should ensure that all fighting forces, including peacekeepers, are vetted and trained in preventing sexual abuse. Complaints mechanisms should be easily available for children to use, without retribution. All cases of sexual abuse by members of military forces should be documented so that further abuses may be avoided. Systematic investigations and criminal prosecutions should be launched, in both national and international courts, for each reported incident.

Victims of sexual abuse are highly vulnerable. The wellbeing of child survivors of sexual abuse and their families should be the primary consideration when bringing proceedings against abusers.

Photo © Espen Rasmussen/Panos Pictures