Child Soldiers in Burundi and Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, established a legal and ethical instrument for promoting and protecting the rights of children. The International Community responded enthusiastically to the Convention, and that type of broad participating "symbolizes something very special about the Convention, something that gives it unique importance and authority."

Carol Bellamy with UNICEF believes that this support for the Convention suggests that human rights, particularly child rights, have gained a growing importance in the International Community.

However, the existing legal standards are painfully inadequate for protecting children's rights. First, the United States, still one of the world's superpowers, has failed to give full support to the efforts to keep children from being soldiers. This makes the United States the only recognized country in the world besides Somalia that has failed to ratify the Convention. Despite the U.S.'s failure to ratify it, the Convention was still the "single most widely ratified treaty in existence."

Ten years after the Convention, these promises continue to be mainly illusory. While this may seem unusual, one must consider the fact that the United States has refused to sign the treaty, even though it only bars conscription of anyone under the age of 15. In the United States, children under the age of 18 can volunteer for the army with parental consent, and the U.S. has been the most vocal opponent of provisions that would increase the protected age from 15 to age to 18, despite the fact that only a very small portion of U.S. soldiers are under the age of 18.

Perhaps the most enforceable prohibition against using children as soldiers is featured in the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court. Using children as soldiers is also considered a triable international offense, and is governed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi). The language of that statute provides that "Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities" is a war crime.

Therefore, it is clearly established the use of child soldiers, even their use as porter, spies, or checkpoint guardians, is a triable war crime.

One of the most significant problems with cracking down on the use of children in the military is that this is not traditional warfare. Keith Suter makes some interesting observations about guerrilla warfare and how it impact international policy-making.

What is the most interesting is that the child soldiers are not always being used by recognized governments. In Burundi and Sudan, opposition forces use child soldiers at approximately the same rate as the government's forces. Moreover, even if the government agreed to stop using child soldiers that would not guarantee that these children would be free from acting in conflict. Having once been used in conflict and without other skills, the children might have few alternatives but to begin working as opposition soldiers. Obviously, such a position would be untenable for the established governments. However, the most difficult issue is that these rebel or opposition governments have little authority in the global community, and are not in a position to help shape international policy. Therefore, there is really no incentive to get these opposition governments to conform to the standards of international law. Yes, they may face the threat of being tried as war criminals, but that threat is remote and so unlikely that it does not seem to have a meaningful impact on behavior. Furthermore, given that many powerful Western nations regularly engage in the use of troops under the age of 18, but over the age of 15, it is exceedingly unlikely that any international organization with any power to enforce its rules will suggest the criminalization of all use of children as soldiers.

Of course, people have suggested changing legal standards in a meaningful way, in order to bar the use of children as soldiers. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers offers several suggestions for how the International Community can crack down on the problem of child soldiers. It strongly supports the use of the International Criminal Court, which was established in 1998, to prosecute those using child soldiers. This has been a successful tactic in other countries. That court "announced its first investigations in 2003, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, where child soldiers are extensively used by armed groups. In 2006 it successfully prosecuted a Congolese warlord for recruitment of children."

This tactic may be more successful than individual prosecutions may seem because:

Some armed groups are seeking international legitimacy and support for their political objectives. Negative publicity arising from child soldier use might undermine such support and lead to pledges and action to stop the practice. Armed groups may also respond to pressure from governments tacitly supporting their activities or providing military or other assistance. In some cases armed groups may be open to negotiations with governments or the UN aimed at demobilizing child soldiers. If children continue to be used, the Coalition considers that the international community should act decisively with targeted sanctions and prosecutions to stop the operations of such groups.


Despite international laws and treaties aimed at increasing human right for children, the International Community has failed to eliminate the use of children in military activities.


Although the use of child soldiers is a significant problem in many African countries, this case study is limited to the countries of Burundi and Sudan, the time period from 1992-2002, due to an overabundance of reporting stemming from increased civil unrest. However, it must be acknowledged that the civil wars in both of these countries have resulted in border skirmishes in addition to inter-country combat. It is not unusual for forces in Burundi or Sudan to send child troops for training in a neighboring country, or to prevent child refugees from leaving for a neighboring country. Therefore, while this study is focused on Burundi and Sudan, it will, necessarily, also consider the use of child soldiers in all of Africa.

Definition of Terms

For the purposes of this thesis, the term "military activities" includes any military-based activity and is not limited to combat. For example, the use of children in intelligence-gathering would be considered a military activity, as would the use of children in the front lines of battle. Furthermore, for the purposes of this paper, child will be defined as it was defined by the United Nations General Assembly in The Convention on the Rights of the Child, as "A person under age 18."

It is important to keep in mind that this paper's definition of a child soldier differs from the definition under international law, which only prohibits the use of children under 15.


The International Community has failed to adequately protect children from being engaged in military activity. One of the assumptions contained in that statement is that children suffer unique harm when forced to engage in military activity:

Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make obedient soldiers. Many are abducted or recruited by force, and often compelled to follow orders under threat of death. Others join armed groups out of desperation. As society breaks down during conflict, leaving children no access to school, driving them from their homes, or separating them from family members, many children perceive armed groups as their best chance for survival. Others seek escape from poverty or join military forces to avenge family members who have been killed.

In addition to facing the same risks of harm as adult combatants, "Children are often at an added disadvantage as combatants. Their immaturity may lead them to take excessive risks."

In addition, children are perceived as more dispensable than adult soldiers, so that they frequently receive inadequate training and supplies, resulting in them being massacred in combat.

Children begin being used for military service at very young ages, frequently as young as age seven, when they are used as porters, messengers, and spies.

Once able to carry full-size weapons, children are used in combat and at checkpoints. In fact, adult soldiers are seen standing behind children manning checkpoints, so that the children will be the ones to die in the event of an attack.

In some countries, child soldiers are forced to take drug and alcohol, which, combined with the systemic abuse they face from adults and the pervasive culture of violence, leads these child soldiers to commit atrocities.

In addition, while boys are more likely to be pressed into military service than girls, members of both sexes are recruited. However, while boys are expected to be soldiers, in addition to taking up arms against enemies, girls are expected to act as wives, providing sexual services for soldiers. So, child sexual abuse is intricately linked to the use of children as soldiers.

Moreover, none of these countries provide any type of services to transition former child soldiers into civilian life, nor to protect civilians from the impact of having children encouraged to…

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