Child Soldiers

The Graca Machel report on Children and Armed Conflict (1996) ( raised awareness of the problems children face in armed conflict and prominently put the issue in the international arena. Following the report, a UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu was appointed to further the UN's work in this area( UNICEF ( has also worked hard to address the problems highlighted in the report.

Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict's The Legacy of Armed Conflict and Liberia's Children (June 2004) (; in .pdf at documents the broad range of issues which have placed, and continue to place, children in jeopardy in Liberia.

The use of child soldiers has been a tremendous problem in Liberia. The problem also exists in other parts of the world, including Asia, South America, and other countries in Africa. Even though the ceasefire agreement was signed in 2003, and disarming and demobilization are under way, there is concern that children who fought in Liberia are now being recruited for the conflict in Guinea.

Referring to the July 1997 special election, children who fought for Charles Taylor were often heard chanting "You killed my ma, you killed my pa, I'll vote for you!"

The African Union adopted in 1990 its African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which went into effect in 1999. (Resolutions and declarations of other regional organizations are available at ( Conventions_ Protocols/A. C. ON THE RIGHT AND WELF OF CHILD.pdf).

The international norms addressing the issue are found within the bodies of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and international labor law. An in-depth analysis is provided by Child Soldiers and International Law ( by Barbara Fontana at the South African Institute for Securities Studies (also published in African Security Review Vol. 6, no. 3, 1997.

Graca Machel produced a follow-up report in 2001, entitled The Impact of War on Children: A Review of Progress Since the 1996 United Nations Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, published by Palgrave.

An Optional Protocol to the [UN] Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (; in html at went into effect on February 12, 2002. The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights tracks ratifications of the protocol.

Human Rights Watch published in 2004 its report, "How to Fight, How to Kill: Child Soldiers in Liberia" (, which addresses the causes of the problem and stresses education as the only hope for their future. "It's Easy Prey: Child Soldiers in Liberia" ( was prepared after an April 1994 fact-finding mission there. Amnesty International's "Liberia: the promises of peace for Liberia's 21,000 child soldiers" (, May 17, 2004, makes for compelling reading.

Additional Resources:

  • Bald, Stephanie H., student author. 2002. Searching for a lost childhood: will the Special Court of Sierra Leone find justice for its children? 18 American University International Law Review 537 (2002).
  • Bennett, T. W., and Institute for Security Studies (South Africa). 1998. Using children in armed conflict: a legitimate African tradition; Criminalising the recruitment of child soldiers. Halfway House: Institute for Security Studies
  • Boyden, Jo, and de Berry, Joanna. 2004. Children and youth on the front line: ethnography, armed conflict and displacement. New York: Berghahn Books
  • Brett, Rachel. Child soldiers: law, politics and practice. 4 The International Journal of Children's Rights 115 (1996)
  • Brett, Rachel, and Specht, Irma. 2004. Young soldiers: why they choose to fight. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Cohn, Ilene. The protection of child soldiers during the Liberian peace process. 6 The International Journal of Children's Rights 179 (1998).
  • Cohn, Ilene, Goodwin-Gill, Guy S., and Institut Henry-Dunant. 1994. Child soldiers: the role of children in armed conflict. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Davison, Ann, student author. 2004. Child soldiers: no longer a minor incident. 12 Willamette Journal of International Law and Dispute Resolution 124 (2004).
  • Delissen, A.J.M., Legal Protection of Child-Combatants after the Protocols: Reaffirmation, Development or a Step Backwards?, in A. J. M.Delissen (ed.), Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict Challenges Ahead: Essays in Honour of Frits Kalshoven, Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1991, pp. 153-164.
  • Happold, M. [Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989] Child soldiers in international law: the legal regulation of children's participation in hostilities.
  • Hitch, L., International Humanitarian Law and the Rights of the Child: Article 38, 7 New York Law School Journal of Human Rights 1989
  • Mann, T., International Law and the Child Soldier, 37 International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 33 (1987);
  • Máusse, Miguel A., Nina, Daniel, and Bennett, Elizabeth. 1999. Child soldiers in Southern Africa. Halfway House: Institute for Security Studies.
  • Obote-Odora, Alex. Legal Problems with Protection of Children in Armed Conflict.
  • Policy making on children in conflict: lessons from Sierra Leone and Liberia. 24 Cultural Survival Quarterly no. 2 p. 56-8 (2000).
  • Richards, Paul, Rebellion in Liberia and Sierra Leone: Crisis of Youth? in Oliver Farley (eds.), Conflict in Africa, London: Tauris Academic Studies, 1995
  • Utas, Mats, and Uppsala Universitet. 2003. Sweet battlefields: youth and the Liberian civil war. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University.
  • Wells, Sarah L. 2004. Crimes Against Child Soldiers in Armed Conflict Situations: Application and Limits of International Humanitarian Law. 12 Tulane Journal of International and Comparative Law 287 (2004).
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