UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was written to address the issue of using children in armed conflict. Two influences are identified -- state crisis and local conditions. When it comes to preventing the conscription of children into armed forces, state crisis can be difficult to prevent, but local conditions are something that can be addressed (De Berry, 2001). The Convention was written to highlight the opinion that children in armed combat is a form of child abuse, and that this view is widely held across nations (De Silva, Hobbs & Hanks, 2001). The formalization of this view by the United Nations serves to put pressure on nations to remove children from their own armed forces and to seek to address some of the underlying issue that lead to children being conscripted into armed conflict in the first place.
Children suffer immensely from being used as soldiers. Studies have shown that children who engage in armed conflict face "seriously disrupted" moral development (Boyden, 2003), and very high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (Bayer, Klasen & Adam, 2007). As such, this paper will focus on the issue of child soldiers in three countries: Yemen, Myanmar and Colombia. The paper will examine the degree to which children are engaged in armed conflict in these three nations and what is being done to remedy this situation.
Yemen ranks high on the failed state index at #6, worse than Afghanistan, meaning that the central government has only limited control over its territory (FFP, 2013). Yemen is subject to sporadic local insurrections, and is known as a hotbed for terrorist groups, in particular because of the lack of central government control. This has led to a high rate of child soldiering. According to the Department of Labor (2012), Yemeni children have been conscripted into both central government forces and rebel groups. Surveys found children serving in " the ranks of the Central Security Forces, the Republican Guard, and the First Armored Division" (DOL, 2012). Tribal and rebel groups also frequently recruit children. This issue is exacerbated by a very high levels of poverty, minimal access to education, ever-present conflicts over water access and lack of opportunity for children in the country. Human Rights Watch noted that the government frequently recruited children as soldiers even in the capital. HRW also notes that many such child soldiers are subsequently recruited by rebel groups, leading to a military career and effectively ending any hope at a normal childhood (HRW, 2011).
Yemen is a challenging country with respect to the issue of child soldiers. The central government is in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by recruiting soldiers as young as eight years old into the military, but there appears to be a little traction with respect to this issue. It can be difficult at times to confirm the age of someone serving in the armed forces because there is a low rate of birth registration, but at the same time it is quite clear that many children are serving in Yemeni armed forces groups.
Human Rights Watch has sought the United States and other Western nations to address this issue. The U.S. has granted an exception to prohibition on military aid to countries using child soldiers to Yemen. This policy serves to help Yemen with its conflict with al-Qaeda forces operating in the country, so there is strong national interest on the part of the U.S. To continue to fund the Yemeni military, but this funding places the U.S. At ethical risk, and provides no real incentive for Yemen to end this practice of recruiting children (HRW, 2011).
At this point, however, there has not been much progress in Yemen. The rebel groups are all but impossible to control, but progress with the Yemeni government has been frustratingly slow for activist groups like HRW. At this point, the biggest thing that the Yemeni government can do is address its own use of children in the military and other armed groups. The government needs to adopt a policy to eliminate the use of children in these groups as a first step. Outside groups like the United States should tie their military aid to Yemen to policies with respect to child soldiers in order to motivate the Yemeni government to act. Furthermore, there needs to be a better system for issuing birth certificates, because with the current system it is almost impossible to verify age. Given high levels of unemployment and chronic lack of opportunities for youth, young boys might feel incentivized to join the military as a means of providing opportunity -- there needs to be a way to screen them for age, and social programs to help keep them in school so that they do not willingly join armed groups. At present, there has simply not been enough application of basic human rights concepts to the issue in Yemen, where security issues trump both human rights considerations and the UN Convention (Rosen, 2007). Central government control over the entire country is an essential component to eliminating child soldiers from armed groups.
Myanmar is run by a military junta that has used child soldiers in the past. Singer (2004) noted that Myanmar had one of the largest populations of child soldiers ten years ago, employed by the government to help control its vast territory, including a number of trouble regions. The use of child soldiers has been facilitated in part by technological change that has made small arms easier for children to use, and a rise in intrastate conflicts (Achvarina & Reich, 2006). In Myanmar, the intrastate conflict has been between government forces and insurgent groups in the north of the country.
Myanmar is one country where there has been significant progress on the issue of child soldiers. The government junta reduced its power in recent years, bringing in a number of quasi-democratic reforms and the current regime is slightly more open to working with the international community. This has included ratifying the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention in 2013 (ILO, 2013). The government has followed up on this commitment by releasing child soldiers from its service. Small numbers of child soldiers have been released from service in recent years, although it has been noted by outside groups that the country continues to have child soldiers in its military ranks (AFP, 2014). There are reports that children have been issued false identification in order to force them to enlist, and this can make discharging all child soldiers a challenge (IRIN, 2012). With a high level of corruption and a need to fight northern insurgent groups, local military officials are often willing to recruit children into the military and simply hide behind false identification in order to get away with it.
While Myanmar seems willing to address the issue, the high levels of corruption among officials make it more challenging to completely eliminate child soldiers. The country needs to continue to make progress, especially in terms of enforcing existing policy, identifying children currently in military service and reducing the corruption that has encouraged the recruitment of child soldiers in the past.
Colombia has a fairy low rate of child soldiers in its national armed forces, but there are an estimated 10,000-11,000 children in the armed forces of rebel groups (DOL, 2012). Paramilitary groups in the country's remote regions recruit children as young as age eight, both girls and boys, into their conflicts with the central government (Grossman, 2007). Indigenous children are at risk of becoming involved in these conflicts (DOL, 2012). Human Rights Watch (2003) notes that most children joining these groups do so voluntarily, usually because of the lack of opportunity for rural children in these areas, including a lack of access to education.
The obvious solution in Colombia is to establish government control over the affected regions. Naturally, this would mean breaking up the rebel groups so that they would not be able to recruit children at all, but also this would put the central government in a position to build up the infrastructure for education and economic opportunity in these regions. Colombia is a middle income country, so there should be room for rural development programs and education programs to provide some opportunity for children in these regions. That is going to be a challenge in regions where rebel groups are in control, however, so establishing central government control over these regions is a precursor.
Colombia has laws against the use of children in armed forces, and HRW (2012) has "no credible reports of children serving in the regular armed forces or the police," which means the key to ending the use of child soldiers in Colombia rests with the ability of the government to wrest control over remote rural areas away from the rebel groups that do use child soldiers.
Where the rule of law is established, it is much easier to eliminate the use of child soldiers, and this is something…