Foreign Policy Blogs

The True Victims of War: The Child Soldiers of Today


No child should ever fight the wars of their countries, nor should they ever have to live in such fear. But the truth is that millions are doing just that every day, there lives are lost and their innocence is never returned. Children, who never had a doll or a video game, but know how to load a Kalashnikov and shot to kill. An estimated 300,000 or more child soldiers are actively fighting in at least 30 countries around the world, according to both Amnesty International and UNICEF. Deplorably they are not alone for there millions more fighting in states not currently engaged in a war (Insight on the News). Africa has the largest number of child solders, I've seen figures from 100,000 – 200,000, but the true number will never be known. "It is estimated that 43 percent (157 of 366) of all armed organizations in the world use child soldiers, 90 percent of whom see battle. In the last decade, more than 2 million children have been killed in combat, a rate of some 500 per day" (Teach Kids Peace)


Child Soldiers Around the World

Unfortunately the use of child soldiers is not a new topic, through out time children have been used in military conflict. However in this new millennium it seems to be a story that has continued to grow and yet is too often untold. Our western society dictates a minimum age for a solider, an age we voted for and felt was when one was no longer a child but that of a consenting adult, well able to make a free and clear choice to join the military. In the majority of countries the age of conscription is 18. But age of consent is an unheard of term in many parts of the world, where children some so young we can't even imagine are recruited or forced into the brutal acts of wars. Many US soldiers in Vietnam will recall the surprise they saw when a child launched a grenade in their direction, as will soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the majority of child soldiers are in a land far away, fighting a war you’ve never even heard of, in a country some didn't even know existed. It is these children who never play with toys or games, who live in poverty and disease, in a country riddle by years, even centuries of conflict, that never grow up. These are our lost children.

True many of the countries with children in conflict have laws and ages of consent, but what good are laws when no one cares to follow or enforce them. I know many countries do not have good documentation like we do in the West, so sure you may get away with saying you didn't know about some of the older children, that they lied about their age. But when you see a child caring around a gun almost the same size as their own body, can anyone honestly not notice this blatant act.

Even when a child is free or escapes there is no place for them to go, they are ostracized from their own communities, turned away by their families. They face endless mental anguish and rehabilitation is more often than not a word that is unheard of. When one of our adult solders returns from a war they face post traumatic stress and unrealities nightmares, and we all know how difficult it is for an adult, now place that immense burden on the shoulders of a child, who has seen little that is right with the world and so much that is wrong. Many child solders are forced to committee crimes that one cannot even imagine; killing and harming people they know, sometimes even members of their own families. The girls are most often forced into sexual slavery, many children are maimed, tortured and simple witness the unspeakable. While all wars carry a risk of death, a child solider is much more likely to sub come to injury or death. And if one manages to survive they pay with the death of their innocence and childhood.

So how do we stop this horrid situation? Monitoring and the enforcement of laws, these crimes need to be reported and those responsible on every level must be brought before a court of law. We need to establish and enforce more international tribunals. Structures must be in place for the recovery and rehabilitation of former child solders. As well as reunification programs need to be established. Yes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Geneva Conventions both have taken great strides to establish international and ensure that no child under 15 is recruited or active in conflict, but this is not enough as we can clearly see. The Cape Town Principles which where adopted in 1997 thanks to the efforts of UNICEF, formally raised the legal age of conscription to 18. Now if only we could see all of the worlds solders at this legal age, but I fear we are farther away than one can bare to think.

These children have spent a short part of life in ways one cannot imagine, nor should they ever have to, but if they are to regain their lives and have a chance at a normal life they need endless amounts of support and protection. For many, the only chance is to leave the only country they have known, but we need systems in place to allow them to remain in their own countries and learn from the past. They are the future and they know all too well what happens when political leadership, hate and ignorance fails. They are the future leaders of the country, we must help them to be good leaders and learn the errors of their fathersto lead without war and if in conflict to lead by the strength of man, not child! For all too many children they will never get the chance to make that decision.

I will leave you with the words of Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu:

“It is immoral that adults should want children to fight their wars for them… There is simply no excuse, no acceptable argument for arming children.”


To find out more on child soldiers please look on the following:
Child Soldiers 1379 Report
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
World Revolution
The Middle East North Africa (MENA) Regional Network to Stop the Use of Children as Soldiers
Stolen Childhood
Children with Guns
War Child
Optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict
The Child Soldiers Project



Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict