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People stand in line behind a child wearing army camouflage and a beret in South Sudan

Putting an end to child soldiers

How World Vision works to end child soldier recruitment

Children are being exploited

Tens of thousands of girls and boys are currently used as child soldiers by armed groups around the world - as spies, messengers, in armed combat, or as ‘wives’ of fighters. Although many child soldiers are forcefully recruited, some children feel they have no choice but to get involved in armed conflict because of deeper reasons such as poverty, lack of opportunities, separation from parents or caregivers, and conflict itself. It’s often these desperate situations that can lead to child soldier recruitment.

The physical effects of being a child soldier are varied, but the main damage to children is often psychological. The horrors of armed conflict leave long-lasting psychological effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe personality changes, particularly when children have also been given drugs.

World Vision works to prevent children from being recruited into armed groups by strengthening child protection systems, promoting peacebuilding and increasing access to education and work opportunities for entire communities. With your support, we work with governments, civil society groups, other NGOs and community-based organisations, using our expertise and experience to better protect children and provide opportunities. For example, our faith helps us build connections with local faith leaders, and the church is often cited as a key resource for discouraging children from joining the armed forces and armed groups.

Preventing child soldier recruitment

We take a holistic approach to preventing recruitment, addressing the root causes of violence against children. We strengthen the protective environment and build children’s capacity to protect themselves against the lure of child soldier recruiters. We also support those who have previously been recruited to recover and try to reintegrate into society. 

Prevent recruitment today, help a child for life.

Despite being vitally important, child protection is the second-least funded humanitarian sector globally. Support World Vision to tackle the root causes of child soldier recruitment and keep children safe.

The scale of the problem

Many people only associate child soldier recruitment and atrocities with Africa, due to incidents like the terrible Boko Haram kidnapping in 2014. However there are thousands of children in armed conflict in countries around the world, and millions more in danger from suicide bombers, conflict and disasters. Below are some child soldier statistics.

Child soldier stories like James' are harrowing. Help us put a stop to child soldier recruitment, and keep children safe and protected.

Together we can end the practice of child soldiers

Learn more about child soldiers

  • Child soldiers are children under the age of 18 who are used for military purposes. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and international human rights law, no child under 18 may be recruited into armed forces (government military) or armed rebel groups (militias and gangs).

    What is the child soldier definition? The term “child soldier” encompasses a wide range of roles in which children – boys and girls – are used in military conflict. Regardless of the responsibility, each role has long-term, negative effects on the child.

  • Although child soldiers are often forcefully recruited, it is not actually the most common way that children become involved in armed conflict. It is usually the desperate circumstances, leading to a lack of other options, often coupled with coercion, that leads to child soldier recruitment. That's why World Vision works with children, their families and communities to tackle the root causes of the child soldier problem, and prevent them getting involved with armed groups in any capacity.

    These include:

    Lack of educational and employment opportunities - In areas of armed conflict, people can find themselves in refugee camps, or in other informal settlements where education and income opportunities are severely limited. In this case, joining an armed group becomes an employment or survival strategy.

    Poverty and lack of basic necessities - This is a common motivator. When food and resources become scarce, the offer of a warm bed and readily available food is difficult to resist. Poverty is also a root cause of girls becoming child soldiers, where they are often sexually exploited as ‘wives’ or become spies.

    Lack of familial relationships or sense of belonging - In times of uncertainty or displacement due to armed conflict, children often leave school, their homes, villages and even countries, leading to a sense of isolation. When this happens, children may experience a loss of personal identity and becoming a child soldier provides a sense of identity in that they now belong to a community, however misguided.

    Ongoing insecurity and displacement - During times of protracted violence, when families are internally displaced or have to cross borders as refugees, their lives become chaotic and disruptive. This chaos can result in separation between family members, including children from their parents. This separation leaves children without any means of safety or security, so they choose to become child soldiers as a form of protection.

  • While the physical effects of being a child soldier are varied, the horrors of armed conflict do leave long-lasting psychological effects. When children are repeatedly exposed to traumatic stress during development, it leaves them with mental and physical ill-health, most notably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe personality changes. In some cases, children may be forced to take drugs that can change the child’s temperament and negatively impact their personality. There are also alarming cases physical maiming, however the main damage is psychological.

    The consequences are also further-reaching than just the recruited child. Other children become victims of the armed group’s violence and the cycle of trauma continues.

  • The recruitment and use of children as armed actors is identified as one of the six grave violations of children’s rights according to international law, as the practice is an affront to the safety, dignity and healthy development of children. Despite this, there are at least 18 conflicts around the world where children have participated in hostilities since 2016.

    The UN has identified 14 countries where children have been widely used as soldiers. These countries are Afghanistan, Colombia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.