A new report says there are more than 100,000 child soldiers in Africa alone. And despite an international treaty guaranteeing the rights of the child, the situation has improved little since a similar report was released three years ago. The information is contained in the Child Soldiers Global Report 2004.
Casey Kelso, head of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, says generations continue to have their childhoods stolen by governments and armed groups.
"What we see is that as some conflicts end, such as in Angola or Sierra Leone, other conflicts ignite again – such as in Cote D’Voire or Darfur or southern Thailand," he says.
The report says, “Children are fighting in almost every major conflict…they are being injured, subjected to horrific abuse and killed.”
Mr. Kelso says while governments are beginning to act, much more needs to be done.
"Governments are actually stopping using child soldiers as much. That’s an effect of the optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. That UN treaty that came into force in 2002. But the situation continues to be grim for child soldiers as new conflicts bring in new generations of children into war," he says.
And modern military technology makes children more attractive as fighters.
"In the last 10 years the weapons have become lighter and lighter, so that smaller children can use them. There’s a question also of just younger being much more malleable and an immature personality then can be molded, shaped and manipulated to the ends of a warlord or an armed group," Mr. kelso says.
Also, he says more girls are joining the ranks of child soldiers.
"Girls often join because they have equality of status with boys. They become leaders among other children or adults as well. And they have a higher status than they would have had back in the village," he says.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers accuses the European Union, the G-8 and the UN Security Council of a “failure of leadership” and called for the “immediate ban” on child soldiers.
He says, "Three years after we did the first report, the situation remains as grim as it ever was even though we have this new treaty – the child soldiers’ treaty that is out there, this optional protocol. Even though we have the International Criminal Court that can now prosecute who are recruiting children, we don’t see a difference on the ground. And that will take political will and a political commitment and a consistent use of power by the Security Council, by the EU and by the Group of 8 industrialized countries to actually ban the use of child soldiers."
He warns that unless former child soldiers are rehabilitated and taught new skills, there is the likelihood they will be exploited again and return to war.