The recruitment and use of child soldiers during conflict remains a serious problem globally, including in Africa. Tens of thousands of children are recruited and used as soldiers in conflicts around the world. Since 2002, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has issued an annual report on children and armed conflict which lists all armed groups – both state and non-state – that recruit and use children. The most recent report, published in August 2017, cites groups operating in eight African countries; namely the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria and Mali. In 2016, the recruitment and use of children documented in Somalia more than doubled compared with 2015. In South Sudan, 1,022 children were recruited and used as child soldiers.
The recruitment and use of children as soldiers is explicitly prohibited under international humanitarian law and human rights law. In 1999, the UN Security Council passed its first Resolution, UNSCR 1261, on the impact of armed conflict on children and condemned violations in that context. In the same year, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child entered into force. Article 22 of the Charter sets out a prohibition on the recruitment and direct participation in hostilities of any person under the age of 18 years.
Ever since, the Security Council has established important tools to strengthen child protection and to strengthen implementation of international standards, including the position of UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict who investigates and develops best practices to address the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Ireland’s commitment to the eradication of the recruitment and use of child soldiers is highlighted in our Policy for International Development, ‘One World, One Future’. In addition to the focus in our development programme on addressing the socio-economic causes which can lead to conflict, and the recruitment of child soldiers, Ireland also supports more targeted interventions by working with organizations such as UNICEF, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and institutions such as the International Criminal Court.