Past and Present


Smiling, sad, excited, disappointed, going to school, or …carrying the guns–these are some of the images of children that one might see on TV or the Internet.  While each of the images might evoke different feelings, most probably the image of a kid carrying a gun would be among the most shocking one.

For quite some time in history, the international community was picturing a child soldier to be a child (mainly a boy) carrying a gun. Yet this narrow view on the problem raised many concerns and debates. Why? Because the rehabilitation programs for former child soldiers were devoted to only those children carrying guns, while ignoring children who served in different roles within the armed groups. This is especially true in case of the girls who often were not carrying guns, but served as cooks, or sex slaves (bush wives).

As a result in February 2007, the global community reexamined the definition of a child soldier. In a new definition, a child soldier was described as any boy or a girl associated with an armed group, who served as a fighter, cook, porter, sex slave, spy, or in any other role1.

The Internet and mass media often portray child soldiers, as children with guns. However, it is important to remember that child soldiers are also those who serve in any other capacity within the armed forces.

Historical Background

Are child soldiers a new or an old phenomenon? Singer2 claims that child soldiers are a relatively new phenomena distinctive for our century, while other scholars, like Eisenstrager3, Rosen4, and Brocklehurst5, argue that child soldiers have always existed. Massey6 provides an example, that the use of children in wars were documented in the times of Ottoman Empire, the medieval Europe, and throughout the whole history of the humankind. However, according to  Eisenstrager3 the distinguishable feature of a “modern” child soldiers from their predecessors is the development of a relatively new concept of a childhood.

With the introduction of the “International Convention for the Rights of the Child” in November 20th, 1989, a person under the age of 18 was recognized as holder of rights, and as objects of special care and attention. According to Eisenstrager3, Philippe Ariès (1996) was the first scholar who claimed that, “childhood is a modern invention”. According to Ariès “during medieval times children were regarded as mini-adults who did not have any different needs than adults, and that they were not protected against any of the aspects of adult life, such as for example, labour, sex and violence”3. Also, as stated by Rosen the introduction of the mass formal education that created a clear distinction of adulthood and childhood contributed to the concept of children as being “innocent” and “weak”4. Therefore, the current child soldiers crisis is explained by Brocklehurst 4  as the crisis of raising contradictions between the concept of the warfare and a Western concept of a childhood.

Recent Data on Child Soldiers

According to UNICEF,  there were about 300,000 child soldiers who were involved in more than 30 conflict zones worldwide in 2003. Another study showed that in the 83 armed conflicts that exploited children as soldiers during the period of 1987-2007,  Africa was a place for 26 of the conflicts (31.3%), Asia had 26 (31.3%), Europe‘s share was 11 (13.3%), the Middle East had 11 (13.3%), North and South America made up the remaining 9 (10.8%)6. To name some of the countries that currently recruit children, they are Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Nepal, Burma and Afghanistan. Most common entities that recruit children are either the official government forces, or unofficial rebellion groups, or religious groups.

Go to:

Child and Recruiter



Theoretical Framework


1 Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups, February 2007.

2 Singer, P. W. (2010). The Enablers of War: Causal Factors behind the Child Soldiers Phenomenon. In Gates, S. & Reich, S. (eds) Child soldiers in the age of fractured states, (pp. 93-107). Pittsburg, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press.

3 Eisentrager, S. (2012). Exploring the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers. Essay.

4 Rosen, D. M. (2005). Armies of the young: child soldiers in war and terrorism. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. xi, 199

5 Brocklehurst, H. (2009). Childhood in conflict: can the real child soldier please stand up? Ethics, Law and Society. 

6 Massey, Ch. M. (2000). Child soldiers: theory and reality of their existence: the question of international protection available to them in contemporary times. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.


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