UNICEF believes that the practice of using children in armed conflict is an abhorrent abuse of their rights. It can cause long-term physical and emotional damage to children and UNICEF strongly advocates to protect children from recruitment by armed forces or groups.
Around the world, thousands of boys and girls are recruited into government armed forces and rebel groups to serve as combatants, cooks, porters, messengers or in other roles. Girls are also recruited for sexual purposes or forced marriage. Many have been recruited by force, though some may have joined as a result of economic, social or security pressures. Situations of displacement and poverty make children even more vulnerable to recruitment.
As emphasized in the United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children (Machel Study, 1996), children associated with armed forces or armed groups are exposed to tremendous violence – often forced both to witness and commit violence, while themselves being abused, exploited, injured or even killed as a result. Their condition deprives them of their rights, often with severe physical and emotional consequences.
UNICEF works to release children from armed forces and armed groups as soon as possible even during armed conflict, and help them return to their families. In doing so, UNICEF supports services that care for the physical and mental health and well-being of such children, provide them with life skills and engage them in positive activities towards their future, including education, vocational skills and livelihoods training. A community-oriented approach is adopted that includes support to other vulnerable children who have also been severely affected by the 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.
More than 100,000 children have been released and reintegrated into their communities since 1998 in over 15 countries affected by armed conflict. 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.
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.
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