Child soldiers are children (individuals under the age of 18) who are used for any military purpose. Some are in their late teens, while others may be as young as four. They are not only boys – many are girls.

Some child soldiers are used for fighting – to kill and commit other acts of violence. Others are used as cooks, porters, messengers, informants or spies, or in any other way their commanders want. Child soldiers are also used for sexual purposes.

Military organisations that recruit children find them easier than adults to entice or force into service. In general, children are more compliant and easier to manipulate.

Some children choose to join a military organisation as a route out of poverty, for protection, or as a way of making up for the loss of family or a lack of education.

In the chaos of armed conflict, children are often separated from their family. These children are particularly vulnerable to all kinds of abuses, including recruitment by military organisations.

The Child Soldiers World Index - our authoritative new online resources mapping child recruitment practices worldwide - shows that children have been exploited in at least 18 conflict situations around the world since 2016.

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Photo © Ed Ou