UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
MORE THAN 120,000 CHILD SOLDIERS FIGHTING IN AFRICA
Maputo, 19 April 1999, Embargo until 10 am GMT
A new report on child soldiers in Africa launched today by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers finds that more than 120,000 children under 18 years of age are being used as soldiers across the continent. Some of these children are no more than 7 years of age. The countries most affected are Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda. Speaking at the launch of the report in Maputo, Stuart Maslen, the Coordinator of the Coalition declared that "it represented a catalogue of shocking abuse against African children." He called upon governments to stop recruiting children into their own armed forces and to end all support to rebel groups that used children as soldiers.
Children have been recruited by government armed forces in Angola, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Uganda, often almost as a matter of course. Some children do volunteer to join the armed forces but tens of thousands of children are forced to join up, sometimes at gunpoint. In Angola, forced recruitment of youth ('Rusgas') continues in some of the suburbs around the capital and throughout the country, especially in rural areas. It has been claimed that military commanders have paid police officers to find new recruits. In Uganda, street children have been forced to join the army in order to be sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Girls too are used as soldiers, though generally in much smaller numbers. Concy A., a 14-year old girl, was abducted from Kitgum in Uganda and taken to Sudan by the armed opposition group, the Lord's Resistance Army. "In Sudan we were distributed to men and I was given to a man who had just killed his woman. I was not given a gun, but I helped in the abductions and grabbing of food from villagers. Girls who refused to become LRA wives were killed in front of us to serve as a warning to the rest of us."
Atrocities have all too frequently been committed by child soldiers. In Algeria, a young woman from one of the villages where massacres had taken place said that all of the killers were boys under 17. Some boys who looked to be around 12 decapitated a 15-year-old girl and played 'catch' with the head.
Government-sponsored militia forces pose particular problems. In Burundi, in addition to widespread recruitment into regular armed forces, Tutsi armed groups, made up of youth aged from 12 to 25, have been formed with the encouragement of government authorities. Government militia in Congo-Brazzaville, which have been widely credited with widespread human rights abuses, include many teenage children among their ranks.
Many of the worst abuses have been committed by armed opposition groups. The Hutu opposition in Burundi has systematically recruited boys and girls under 15 years of age into its armed groups. In Sierra Leone, rebel forces have systematically recruited children, some as young as 7 years of age. In Uganda, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) abducts children from their schools, communities and homes. The children who attempt to escape, resist, cannot keep up, or become ill are killed. If they do manage to escape, they must then face the wrath of the government. In January 1999, the Ugandan army executed, in circumstances to be clarified, five teenage boys between the ages of 14 and 17 suspected of being rebel soldiers.
When not actively engaged in combat, children are often used to man checkpoints. Adult soldiers tend to stand several metres further back so that if bullets start flying, the children will be the first victims. And in any conflict where even a few children are involved as soldiers, all children, civilian or combatant, come under suspicion. A recent military sweep in Congo-Brazzaville, for instance, killed all rebels who had attained the 'age of bearing arms'.
The report does, however, find glimmers of hope. There are reports, for example, that the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which have used many thousands of children in their struggle against the regime in Khartoum, is finally realising that they have created a generation of children who cannot read or write and know only the respect that is earned by the barrel of a gun. It remains to be seen whether they are willing to stop recruiting children and to demobilise those that are currently serving in their ranks.
The report, which is being published to coincide with the opening in Maputo of a Regional Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, includes the best information to date on national recruitment legislation and practice and, in situations of armed conflict, child participation in armed conflict. A summary of the conclusions of the report is attached. The overwhelming majority of African States set 18 years as the minimum age for recruitment, whether voluntary or through conscription. Notable exceptions are Angola, which recently reduced its conscription age to 17, and Uganda, which appears to allow children over 13 years of age to enlist in certain circumstances. South Africa, which currently accepts volunteers at 17 years, is planning to raise its minimum recruitment age to 18 years in the coming months.
The Conference, which is being organised jointly by Save the Children and the Coalition, is the first of four regional conferences to be held this year, the others being in Latin America, Asia and Europe. It will bring together the largest ever gathering of African governments, non-governmental organisations, and representatives of the United Nations and the Red Cross to seek to end the use of children as soldiers. The Coalition, which is headed by seven international NGOs, was formed in May 1998.The research for the report was prepared thanks to financial support from UNESCO and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For further information please contact Patrick Benghersallah-Lhostis, Coalition Media Officer, Tel: + 25 81 305 000
The report is available on the Coalition website at www.child-soldiers.org, as well as on the Child Rights Information Network (www.crin.ch). Copies (in English, French and Portuguese) can also be requested from email@example.com
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 1999 10:41:44 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: AFRICA: Press release on child soldiers 
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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