Youth in Armed Conflict
"Older men declare war. But it is youth that must
fight and die". - Herbert
Since the end of the Cold War, armed conflicts have increased and can no
longer be limited to the notion of war between States.
-The UNESCO Human Development Report of 1994 stated that between
1989 and 1992 there were 82 armed conflicts only three of which were
international in nature.
-The Centre for Defence Studies at Kings College, Cambridge, places
the number of armed conflicts at roughly 30 in 1995.
- PIOOM, A CONFLICT Research Institute based at Leiden University in
The Netherlands, found that in 1997 there were 17 high intensity conflicts
and 70 low intensity ones, the majority of which were civil.
- For every one soldier who dies, there are ten civilian casualties.
How are 'youth' in conflict zones affected?
1. YOUTH SOLDIERS
The International Convention on the Rights of the Child states that human
beings under the age of 18 should not be directly involved in armed
conflicts unless the legislation of the States involved dictates otherwise.
It is important to make the distinction between those involved voluntarily,
particularly those over the age of 18, and those involved through forced
"At least 300,000 children under the age of 18 are currently fighting and
dying in 36 armed conflicts in various African countries, across Asia and in
parts of Europe and South America." - World Vision International 1999.
(1) Forced Recruitment:
"I was abducted in October 1995. I was taken and tied together with about
50 others from my village. We were ordered to carry heavy luggage long
distances on foot. What troubled me was when a child got tired, we captives
were ordered to kill him. In Sudan we were trained to be part of the LRA
(Lord's Resistance Army.) They taught us to use guns and radios. I planted
landmines, stopped vehicles, set homes on fire and destroyed crops. We were
told if we did not do these things we would die." - Robinson Odakonyero
(Sudan), 18 in 1999.
Abduction, coercion and intimidation are all methods of forced recruitment.
(ii) Voluntary Recruitment
The term 'voluntary' can be misleading. Often young people are compelled to
enrol through individual hunger and poverty or through family economic
strains. There is a cyclical link: when conflicts persist, economic
situations suffer, impacting on the number of educational opportunities
available to youths and leading to recruits becoming younger and younger.
Other reasons why young people voluntarily enrol in armed conflicts include
religious/ideological, social, community or family reasons, peer pressure
The effect that becoming a soldier will have on the young person will
largely depend upon the country and the army in which he or she is
enlisting. In some places, it has been reported that youths are drugged
before fighting in order to increase their fearlessness.
(iii) Demobilisation and Reintegration:
- The difficulty young people may have disengaging from violence as a
legitimate activity or means of resolving conflict;
- The process of acknowledging the part that young people played in
the conflict and establishing an environment that fosters health, dignity
- How to normalise the lives of past combatants - particularly by
providing them with educational and employment opportunities.
It is important to note the different reasons why young people become
soldiers and to incorporate this into reintegrating strategies.
(iv) Preventing (Re)recruitment:
- Non Governmental Organizations negotiating with rebel groups, as
they have done recently in Sudan and El Salvador.
- Putting pressure on both governments and local communities to draw
their attention to the need to make mandatory laws on the non-mobilization
of youths under the age of 18.
2. REFUGEES AND INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLE:
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) currently estimates
that there are 27.4 million refugees globally and an additional 30 million
Internally Displaced People.
Refugees are usually denied working permits in the country of their camp.
Denied opportunity to be the 'breadwinner', male young people are often
confronted with demoralizing changes in the community structure and feel
Refugee camps may become militarized, that is aligned or loyal to one side
or faction involved in the conflict. Some refugee camps are 'taken over' by
that faction at night. When aid workers leave, the fighters come to visit
their wives and families. These refugee camps then become the recruitment
ground for young solders.
3. GENDER ISSUES:
The effect of conflict on youth also differs according to gender. While
males tend to represent a higher proportion of participants in military
conflict, females suffer in other ways. Military regimes often use rape as
a means to terrorise populations into fleeing, or practise it as a form of
ethnic cleansing through deliberate impregnation, or through deliberately
placing psychological and social stress on the families of the victims in
order to create social breakdown.
Females become more susceptible to prostitution. With demand generated from
(largely male) soldiers and peace-keepers and social and economic turmoil
within the local communities, many local families become susceptible to
prostitution both during and after conflict. This leads to physical and
mental complications including disease, unwanted pregnancies, reproductive
health issues and societal rejection.
4. LANDMINES AND UNEXPLORED ORDNANCE:
The United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that
approximately 110 million landmines currently contaminate up to 68 states
throughout the world. For example in Cambodia there are more landmines than
people and one in every 236 people is an amputee.
Landmines maim and kill members of the society including young people. The
medical effects of amputation affect young people more than other members of
society because the limb of the growing child grows faster than surrounding
tissue and requires repeated amputation.
In societies lacking governmental social security and where children are
expected to care for their parents later in life, young victims of landmines
become dependent on their families. Large tracts of land are made
unworkable and schools and welfare institutions are often the last places to
5. HEALTH AND DISEASES:
Because armed conflicts destroy medical and other infrastructure and
personnel, disease becomes more prevalent during wartime particularly in
refugee camps. Health problems such as diarrhea and diseases such as
cholera and tuberculosis affect all members of the community. Sexually
transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS have a heightened impact on youth.
War also affects the short and long term emotional and psychological health
of both combatants and civilians. The incidence of famine and malnutrition
is disproportionately high in countries presently or recently suffering from
6. OTHER ISSUES:
- The destruction of educational facilities adversely effects the
long term economic capacity of young people.
- Sanctions resulting from war may affect young members of the
community long after fighting had ceased.
PROGRAMME FOR ACTION: - The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. "It
is immoral that adults should want children to fight their wars for them..
There is simply no excuse, no acceptable argument for arming them." -
Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu.
University of Sussex, Children and Armed Conflict Unit:
Part of the Human Rights Centre, currently building a database of the impact
of armed conflict on children and young people.
The Carter Center: Profiles on current conflicts:
The International Conflict Group: Online reports of current field
INCORE - General Conflict Resolution site: www.incore.ulst.ac.uk
Peace Pledge Union. Articles and publications which relate to women and
war, youths and children: www.gn.apc.org/peacepledge/
International Security Network:
Large central dissemination point for international security information:
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