THE BLOG

Don't Forget Child Soldiers - They Are Still on the Front Line

11/02/2014 17:54 | Updated 13 April 2014

Whether forced into fighting through fear and abduction or recruited by the attraction of desperately needed money, child soldiers are still locked in battle around the world.

12 February marks The International Day Against The Use Of Child Soldiers, otherwise known as Red Hand Day.

It's an annual commemoration of children around the world caught in conflict but should also act as a reminder that this is a problem that is far from over.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the rebel group led by Joseph Kony that originated in Northern Uganda, is just one example of the harrowing use of child soldiers.

Between 1987 and 2006, more than 20,000 children were abducted as part of the terrifying regime to fight in his rebel forces.

Now, to mark the day of commemoration, Christian Aid have documented Norman Okello's story. He was abducted by the LRA at just 12 years old.

Still only a child, he was forced to kill and maim. Reunited with his family as a teenager, the former child soldier tells of the constant struggle he faced to hold on to his humanity in the video below...

Meanwhile, in May last year, a report by journalist Jeffrey Gettleman and photographer Marcus Bleasdale in National Geographic exposed how child soldiers patrol mineral mines in the Congo...

"The first child soldier pops out of the bush clutching an AK-47 assault rifle in one hand and a handful of fresh marijuana buds in the other. The kid, probably 14 or 15, has this big, goofy, mischievous grin on his face... Within seconds his posse materializes from the thick, green leaves all around us, about ten other heavily armed youngsters dressed in ratty camouflage and filthy T-shirts," Gettleman wrote.

It's hard to determine how many children and young people under 18 are still taking part in hostilities that take away their innocence and threaten their future as there are no official records.

Latest estimates, published by the Red Cross, suggest there are around 300,000. However, the actual numbers will vary, depending on the state of conflict or peace in any particular country.

Under international humanitarian law, 15 is the minimum age for recruiting soldiers - everything else constitutes a war crime.

But while most of those taking a direct part in hostilities are aged 15 to 18, there are younger children, some as young as eight, also involved in fighting.

In June 2013, Amnesty International reported that children in Mali, some as young as 13, who were recruited as child soldiers by armed groups or suspected of links with them, are now being detained by Malian forces alongside adults.

After a four-week visit to the country, children reportedly told the charity of torture or ill treatment by the Malian forces.

"They hung me up to the ceiling for 15 minutes and they threatened to give me electric shocks. They threatened to kill me," one of them told Amnesty International.

On this day of remembrance, let's not forget these children and young people fighting battles that they should never have to witness, let alone take part in.

Here are five recent photos, to illustrate how the use of child soldiers is by no means a thing of the past:

  • Central African Republic
    AP
    In this photo, taken on 27 March 2013, young soldiers from the Seleka rebel alliance pose for a photo as they stand amidst their fellow soldiers at the Ledger Plaza Bangui hotel, in Bangui, Central African Republic. The United Nations children's agency warns that it has 'clear evidence of the continuing recruitment and use of children by armed groups' in Central African Republic. An Associated Press reporter saw dozens of youths among the ranks of the Seleka fighters in the capital, more than three weeks after the insurgents caused the president to flee the country. Child soldiers were even used in some of the heaviest fighting in the battle for Bangui. (AP Photo)
  • Myanmar
    AP
    In this photo, taken on 3 November 2013, Min Thu, 17, a run-away boy soldier of Myanmar army, points at a tree that he used to spend days hiding in a nearby swamp fearing arrest following running away from the army in Chaung Tha, Irawaddy, Myanmar. As Myanmar shifts away from decades of military rule, emerging as a quasi-democracy where generals still wield immense political power, the government craves international respectability. Political prisoners have been freed, censorship has been abolished and, the government promises, the days of child soldiers are over. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
  • Mali
    AP
    In this photo, taken on 27 September 2012, young fighters, including 13-year-old Abdullahi, right, and 14-year-old Hamadi, second right, display their Quranic studies notes for a journalist as their Islamist commanders look on, in Douentza, Mali. Islamists in northern Mali have recruited and paid for as many as 1,000 children from rural towns and villages devastated by poverty and hunger. The Associated Press spoke with four children and conducted several dozen interviews with residents and human rights officials. The interviews provide evidence that a new generation in what was long a moderate and stable Muslim nation is becoming radicalised, as the Islamists gather forces to fight a potential military intervention backed by the United Nations. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
  • Mali
    AP
    In this photo, taken on 27 September 2012, 13-year-old fighter Abdullahi, right, holds an AK-47 as his Islamist commanders look on, in Douentza, Mali. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
  • Mali
    AP
    In this photo, taken on 27 September 2012, two young fighters read out Quranic verses for a journalist, at the request of their Islamist commanders, in Douentza, Mali. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)

Visit Christian Aid's multimedia exhibition 'In Kony's Shadow' online here or at Oxo Tower Wharf in London's South Bank from March 5 to 16.