Although by its very nature the exact numbers are difficult to quantify, it is estimated today that as many as 300,000 child soldiers – some as young as eight years old, are involved in more than 30 conflicts around the world.
Child soldiers are used as combatants, messengers, porters, cooks and to provide sexual services. Some are forcibly recruited or abducted; others are driven to join by poverty, abuse and discrimination, or to seek revenge for violence enacted against themselves and their families. Donate now to support UNICEF’s child protection programs.
Who is Joseph Kony?
Joseph Kony is leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. For more than 20 years he has abducted and forced children to fight for 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?
UNICEF focuses on the three key steps to assisting child soldiers:
- Disarmament by taking the guns off children
- Demobilisation by ensuring children are moved away from living in barracks; and
- Reintegration by assisting former child soldiers to integrate back into society and the community.
UNICEF works with key local partners to assist formerly abducted children by supporting centres that provide family tracing and psychosocial counselling. UNICEF assists such centres in the provision of shelter materials, medical services, psychosocial counselling support and vocational skills-training, and facilitates the coordination between centres. Donate now to support UNICEF’s child protection programs.
We also work to place the centre of support squarely on community members. This is essential to giving the formerly abducted their lives back.
The open participation of community members is an integral element in creating a protective environment for returnees and their families. Together, communities can address stigmatisation, limited economic viability and other common challenges faced by formerly abducted persons, and look together for solutions to reduce their vulnerability.
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.
Many former child soldiers in Uganda who have been freed from the LRA then find themselves being drawn again into armed conflict – this time with the national army.
Many of the former child soldiers have no other job skills and working for the army is often seen as a lesser of two evils. Yet those who have been abducted into the LRA need comprehensive rehabilitation. They need a chance to be reintegrated into the society. They need to find their families, return to school and have a normal life, which could take quite a long time.
UNICEF advocates for a period of disconnect between the end of captivity, and a time when the individual can make an informed decision on a future course of action.
How you can help
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.