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Children bearing arms - worldwide engagement to stop the deployment of child soldiers 

Robbed of their childhood: child soldiers in action

Robbed of their childhood: child soldiers in action, © picture alliance/AFP

12.02.2018 - Article

The International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers (12 February) draws attention to a particularly perfidious form of abuse of children’s rights – their exploitation as soldiers in conflicts. Germany is engaged in protecting the rights of children in numerous projects throughout the world.

Perpetrators and victims

Children at Rhino Refugee Camp, Uganda
Children at Rhino Refugee Camp, Uganda© Thomas Koehler/photothek.net

In almost all current armed conflicts, children are exploited as soldiers and forced to fight. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, the deployment of children and young people in crisis areas is particularly widespread. They are kidnapped or lured with false promises, only to then be trained to kill. They are also often used as messengers, spies or porters. They have to set up explosive devices and learn to handle weapons. The military forces exploit the fact that children can be more easily manipulated and are often more obedient and less fearful than adults. Child soldiers are severely traumatised by their experiences. They are left with psychological and physical scars, which often remain with them for the rest of their lives. Many girls are also affected. Their situation is particularly appalling, as they become victims of sexual violence in the armies and rebel groups. If they manage to escape their torturers, the children are often stigmatised by their friends and families. Since 12 February 2002, an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has prohibited the abuse of children under the age of 18 as child soldiers. It is estimated that there are currently at least 250,000 children who have been recruited to armed groups.

What Germany is doing

Germany is involved in numerous projects working with great determination to improve the protection of children’s rights and has been actively engaged in driving forward implementation of the UN Optional Protocol since its adoption. Human Rights Commissioner Bärbel Kofler issued the following clear statement on behalf of the Federal Government:

“The onus is on all countries to draw attention to this irresponsible conduct and to actively work to end the perfidious practice of using child soldiers. Our message to the perpetrators must be: “We will not forget your atrocities, and we can see the blood on your hands.” The Federal Government will continue to work to ensure that perpetrators are more consistently brought to justice. We also expressly offer whatever help is necessary to free and reintegrate children into a normal life with a future.”
A degree of normality: attending school in Uganda
A degree of normality: attending school in Uganda© Thomas Koehler/photothek.net


The Federal Foreign Office is currently providing support in the area of humanitarian assistance for UNICEF projects designed to assist and reintegrate former child soldiers in South Sudan, the Sudan and Nigeria. The measures range from psychosocial counselling for children and young people who have either been forced to fight themselves or have been victims of fighting, through reunification with their families, to communication of strategies to cope with violence, particularly sexual violence. In 2017, more than 100,000 children were reached through these measures in Nigeria alone

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