Photo: The Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project
For boys released from the army after being illegally recruited, access to education, jobs and social protection will be difficult
Dressed in white shirts over their green sarongs, dozens of young men poured down the concrete step of the army barracks and across the compound. With parents in tow, they walked towards a line of buses parked beyond the barbed-wire perimeter. Once everyone was seated, the buses moved off. The young men stared out of darkened windows; some looked blank while others, smiling, waved at the grey slab buildings as they receded into the distance.
Recruited illegally as children, the 108 boys were returning home to their families after being formally discharged from the Burmese military. Some had come straight from active service, while others had emerged from hiding or been released from prison, where they were jailed for desertion.
The Security Council on Friday condemned the recruitment of child soldiers into military forces, guerrilla movements and Islamic militias around the world and demanded an end to attacks on schools and hospitals in conflict zones.
The council unanimously approved a resolution with those demands after hearing testimony from a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, which became notorious for guerrilla groups that amputated the limbs, ears and lips of civilians to leave them as living emblems of fear.
In 2001, when he was 14, Alhaji Babah Sawaneh became the first ex-child soldier to speak before the council, and he spoke again Friday as a campaigner against the practice.
He told the council that he was "one of the children that were forcefully abducted and conscripted into an armed group at the age of 10."
5 May 2014: UNICEF has received credible reports an estimated 9,000 children have been recruited into armed forces and groups by both sides in the conflict in South Sudan.
These reports are based on observations of children with armed groups, children wearing military uniforms and carrying weapons, and children undergoing military training. Under both international and South Sudanese law, the forcible or voluntary recruitment of persons under the age of 18, whether as a member of a regular army or of an informal militia, is prohibited.
The issue of child soldiers is back on the global agenda, thanks to two major recent developments. In March, Thomas Lubanga became the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court. He was found guilty of forcibly recruiting child soldiers to his Union of Congolese Patriots, known as 'the army of children'. The second, most visible development, was the massive popularity growth of web-based film KONY2012. It aims to raise awareness of the activities of Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord who leads the Lord's Resistance Army, calling for the US military to intervene to bring him to justice. Kony and the LRA are known for their brutality and use of child soldiers. Invisible Children's initiative went viral to become an Internet phenomenon. It amassed over 30 million views in 48 hours, at a rate of up to 1 million per hour, mostly in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America.
The 31-page report documents the experiences of 25 children and former child soldiers in Syria’s armed conflict. Human Rights Watch interviewed children who fought with the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front coalition, and the extremist groups ISIS and Jabaht al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, as well as the military and police forces in Kurdish-controlled areas. The report does not, for logistical and security reasons, cover all armed groups that allegedly have used children in Syria, in particular pro-government militias. Using children in armed conflict violates international law.
Myanmar's army has freed 96 children and young people from its armed forces, the United Nations has said. This was the largest single release of child recruits in Myanmar since the country's government entered into an agreement with the UN in 2012 on the issue. The army has released a total of 272 children and youth over the past 18 months, but has not completely stopped its use of children. According to Al Jazeera, no record of verifiable figures exists to prove how many children currently serve in Myanmar's military.
Children in Myanmar have been widely used in armed conflict by both state armed forces and non-state armed groups.
Research from Child Soldiers International suggests that the Burmese military is still recruiting children, one year after the Myanmar government made a commitment to the United Nations to stop doing so. Whilst they did release 66 children from the military last month, many more remain. The Tatmadaw (the Myanmar Armed Forces) has continued to recruit since it signed the Joint Action Plan with the UN last year, although in lower numbers than those previously reported.
Through articles, images, survey data and interviews, Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It documents the seeds of war that are planted in the minds of young people in many different countries. However, it also explores the seeds of resistance to this militarisation that are being sown resiliently and creatively by numerous people. READ MORE