Saving children in armed conflict

Children are affected by war and armed conflicts in two manners: they are vulnerable to the impact of war on their homes and families and are often recruited to be implements of the conflict in the form of child soldiers.

UNICEF discusses both groups: protecting children during armed conflict as well as children associated with armed groups. War and conflict leave populations of people vulnerable to extreme forms of violence. Children are affected by this breakdown of protection systems. They are vulnerable to rape, abduction, separation from their families, disabilities and grievous injuries, and long-term psychosocial effects. Children in conflict zones are at a risk for disease, displacement and death.

UNICEF defines a ‘Child Soldier’ as any person below the age of 18 that has been coerced or recruited by a regular or irregular armed group in any capacity; this includes cooks and messengers. It also includes girls who have been recruited during armed conflict for sexual purposes and marriage. Therefore is it not necessary that a child soldier be carrying or handle a weapon. Children join armed conflict because of coercion or abduction or because of poverty, societal pressure, or to get revenge for violence committed against their families.

In India the voluntary recruitment age is seventeen years and six months. Though there is no official information about children being recruited into the military forces there are allegations that children have been recruited into government-supported anti-Maoist village defence forces. Armed Conflicts in India are found in three major regions, the Maoist and security forces conflict concentrated in tribal communities of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand; the Jammu and Kashmir conflict zone, and conflicts in the northeast states Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura. Though the age limit for serving in a military force is seventeen years and six months, many military prep schools such as Rashtriya Indian Military College and The National Cadet Corps recruit children between the ages of 11 years 6 months and 13 years. The lack of proper birth registration or age proving documents doesn’t allow for the elimination of child soldiers as often the age of a recruit cannot be correctly determined.

There is recruitment of children found in the three conflict areas and by state-backed village defence forces. In 2005 in Chattisgarh the government set up the Salwa Judum campaign. Special police officers were recruited from this group to join village defence forces and trained and provided arms by official state forces. A number of cases of children under the age of 18 have been found to be recruited as special police officers. There have also been reported cases of Maoist recruitment of child soldiers. Children are mostly taken from schools without their parents consent and majority come from tribal populations. The police in Jammu and Kashmir claim 200 children went missing in 2004 and were allegedly recruited into armed forces. Children are mainly recruited from schools and mosques. Lack of education and employment opportunities is said to be the leading cause for children to join such conflict groups. Children are often uses are messengers and couriers. In Doodipora, Handwara, on 22 February 2006 soldiers fired shots into a group of child cricketers in play. They claimed there were militants among the group and hence ended up killing four boys, one who was only eight years old. In the north-east states there are only anecdotal evidence of child soldiers. Decades of conflict in the area has created a culture of violence which makes it easy to recruit children who want to handle weapons and fight. Teenagers have been reported ferrying grenades and throwing explosives for non-state forces.

The Asian Centre for Human Right’s 2003 report on the status of India’s children found that the main problem in India is impunity. Armed forces are protected by law allowing for a number of cases of rape and disappearance to go un-punished. The report also outlines abuses committed by opposition groups such as murder and rape. For example in July of 2007 in Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir alleged members of group Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami barged into Nissar Hussain’s house inquiring about him. When they were not satisfied with the answers the beat the members of the family killing their nine-year old daughter Nazia.


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