|Former child soldiers (pictured) make handbags and other items during an arts and crafts class in Congo. The UNICEF-supported centre provides food, shelter, basic education and vocational training for former child soldiers. © UNICEF/ Olivier Asselin
Child protection is a key component of the work of UNICEF. Ensuring all children have access to a safe and secure environment is central to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a goal we constantly strive to achieve.
One area where the basic right of safety and security is denied is the issue of child soldiers. Although by its very nature the exact numbers are difficult to quantify, it is estimated today that as many as 250,000 child soldiers – some as young as eight years old, are involved in more than 20 conflicts around the world.
Children are used as combatants, messengers, spies, porters, cooks, and girls in particular are forced to perform sexual services. Some are forcibly recruited or abducted; others are driven to join by poverty, abuse and discrimination. Donate now to support UNICEF's child protection programs.
Who is Joseph Kony?
For 26 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), under the leadership of Joseph Kony, has had an exceptionally brutal impact on entire communities in the areas in which they operate - killing, maiming, raping and looting; abducting children and forcing them to commit atrocities, including against each other and their own families; using children as combatants and human shields in combat; and sexually enslaving women and girls. It is estimated that over 25,000 children have been abducted by the LRA in Uganda alone since 1987, some of whom it is believed are still being used and held by the LRA.
In 2005 Kony was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court and in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.
How is UNICEF helping child soldiers?
How you can help
UNICEF focuses on the prevention, release, rehabilitation, and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict.
Prevention: UNICEF works to promote and strengthen laws that prohibit the recruitment and use of children by armed groups and implements a range of programs that protect children from violence, particularly sexual violence that targets girls.
Release: UNICEF works to release children from armed forces and armed groups as soon as possible, even during armed conflict. Since 1998, more than 100,000 children have been released and reintegrated into their communities in 15 countries affected by armed conflict, thanks to the work of UNICEF and its partners. In 2010 alone, UNICEF supported the reintegration of some 11,400 children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups along with 28,000 other vulnerable children affected by conflict.
Rehabilitation: UNICEF supports services that care for the physical and mental health and well-being of children affected by conflict, providing them with life skills and engaging them in positive activities toward their future, including education, vocational skills and livelihoods training.
Reintegration: UNICEF uses a community-orientated approach that includes support to other vulnerable children who have been severely affected conflict so as to promote reconciliation and avoid discrimination. These actions require a long-term perspective and long-term commitment to these children and to the conflict-affected communities into which they return.
Since the mid-1980s, UNICEF and its partners have advocated for, and secured the release of, children from armed forces in conflict-affected countries including Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mozambique, Nepal, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.
The issue of children being utilised in combat is extremely complex involving many stakeholders. UNICEF recognises that one organisation alone cannot end the abuse and exploitation of children during conflict and hence we adopt a manifold approach.
UNICEF works with governments, non-governmental organisations, and other groups committed to ending atrocities against children, including community organisations in affected countries that have worked tirelessly for decades to help children.
- Become a UNICEF Global Parent. You can commit to the long-term protection and advocacy of child rights by making monthly donations as a UNICEF Global Parent. Your regular support will help UNICEF to plan ahead and commit to long-term large scale projects, such as protection, vaccinations, food, clean water and sanitation and education, that will provide children around the world with the opportunity to survive and thrive. Find out more.
* All funds from UNICEF's Child Protection Appeal will go towards UNICEF child protection programs, like this, in over 150 countries and territories around the globe.
For more information:
- Talking to your class or children about war and conflict can be confronting and distressing topic. To help teachers and parents respond to the media focus around the Kony 2012 campaign, UNICEF Australia has developed a free child-friendly teaching resource. Find out more.
- The UN Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Resource Centre provides comprehensive information on the planning and implementation of rehabilitation programs for former child soldiers. Visit their website.
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