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Human Rights Index #47– Children in Armed Conflict

Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

Some dubbed 2015 a “year of fear” for children due to the dismal state of children’s human rights, and in particular the impact of armed conflict on children. Children regularly become a part of armed conflict directly, through participation in the fighting, or indirectly when their homes and schools are destroyed. Some children participate in armed conflict because they are abducted, beaten, and forced to join the military groups. Others join freely as a way to escape living in squalor, to seek revenge, or to join a religious cause. Many children serve support roles, such as carrying supplies, acting as a lookout or messenger, and cooking. Often girls in militant groups are forced to be sex slaves or wives in addition to serving these other functions.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force in 2002, establishes the recruitment of children under 15 for combat as a war crime. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) prohibits the compulsory recruitment of individuals under the age of 18 into the military and requires states to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from direct involvement in armed conflicts. South Sudan and Somalia both ratified the CRC in 2015, making it the “most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history” according to the UN. With these ratifications, the United States is the only UN member state not to ratify this treaty. Additionally, the UN is encouraging countries to join the new Safe Schools Declaration, introduced in Oslo on May 29, 2015, which aims to protect schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.


6 Age of some of the youngest children fighting in armed conflicts around the world. (United Nations 2016)

14 Year prison sentence given by the International Criminal Court to Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for conscripting child soldiers under the age of 15 and forcing them into combat in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (International Criminal Court 2012)

15 Percentage of the tribal militias in Yemen composed of children under 18 years old. (Child Soldiers International 2012)

20 Number of countries where children have been used in armed conflict since 2010. (Child Soldiers International 2012)

33 Percentage of fighters in the Yemen conflict that are boys younger than 18. (The Washington Post 2015)

40 Percentage of all child soldiers who are female. (CNN 2015)

76 Percentage of schools that have closed in Yemen due to insecurity caused by air strikes. This closing of over 3,600 schools prevented 1.85 million children from taking their final exams. (Human Rights Watch 2015)

140 Number of children recruited in Yemen between March 26 and April 24, 2015. (Newsweek 2015)

334 Number of documented cases of child rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014, of which 30% were perpetrated by state agents. (United Nations 2016)

430 Number of children estimated to have been killed or maimed through armed conflict in the Central African Republic during 2014. This figure has tripled since 2013. (UNICEF 2014)

500 Number of children reportedly abducted by ISIS in Iraq in late May 2015 to be trained as soldiers and suicide bombers. (Newsweek 2015)

819 Number of children recruited in Somalia by groups like Al-Shabaab, national army and allied militia, and Ahl Al-Sunna wal-Jama’a. These same groups participated in the detention of 286 children and the killing and maiming of 520 children. (United Nations 2016)

889 Number of children killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban and other groups in 2013. (United Nations 2016)

2,500 Estimated number of children involved with the Moaist guerilla groups known as the Naxal in India, despite an Indian law that criminalizes the participation of children in armed groups. (United Nations 2016)

9,909 Number of recorded child detentions since 2006. Government security forces were primarily responsible for these detentions, where the detained children were subjected to torture and other forms of ill treatment. (Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict 2015)

10,000 Number of children suspected of having been abducted in the Central African Republic between December of 2013 and December of 2014. (UNICEF 2014)

12,000 Number of children fighting in the conflict in South Sudan in 2014. (UNICEF 2014)

38,000 Estimated number of children abducted and forced to join notorious warlord Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in and around Uganda. (The Telegraph 2014)

300,000 Number of child soldiers in the world today. (International Business Times 2015)

*Copyright © 2016 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). UICHR’s Human Rights Indexes have been prepared under the direction of Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston, who passed away unexpectedly on October 28, 2015. Index #47 was one of three near completion at the time of Prof. Weston’s death. It was drafted by Prof. Weston with the generous assistance of Deanna Steinbach, research assistant at the UI College of Law, and was finalized by Prof. Weston’s UICHR colleagues. The final three entries in the Human Rights Index series are being published in memory of Prof. Weston.