Increased use of child soldiers linked to the COVID-19 pandemic

Group of boys in Afghanistan Group of boys in Afghanistan Photo by Amber Clay on Pixabay

12 February 2021

EU and UN officials pledge to increase efforts in dealing with the use of child soldiers as the pandemic may contribute to the phenomenon

On the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Camba, warned against  a possible increase in the number of children joining armed groups as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, they noted that the increased rate of poverty and lack of opportunity brought forth by the situation make children more vulnerable towards recruitment efforts. 

Ιn over 20 countries with active conflicts, tens of thousands of boys and girls are recruited as child soldiers after being forced, manipulated, or even driven by poverty to contribute to their families’ income. With great risks that often lead to  injuries and death, children experience intense violence as witnesses, victims or coerced participants in hostilities while girls are subjected to gender violence, as well. Children are used by armed forces and groups because of their lowered nutritional needs and sense of danger, but also since they are more easily manipulated. A small minority of children manage to be released and can benefit from reintegration programs that help them deal with the emotional distress and the fear of stigma suffered as a result of their forced service: as they return home, many of them are treated with suspicion or rejection by their families and communities.

This exploitation constitutes a considerable violation of children’s and international human rights, as well as  humanitarian law, and disrupts children’s development, health and education. UNICEF’s support has contributed to confronting the phenomenon by providing a safe place to released children and making available to them case management resources, psychological support, and family reunification services. However, in light of the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers and due to the unfavourable situation engendered by the pandemic, United Nations and European Union officials have pledged to increased efforts towards children’s release from military service and reintegration to society. While highlighting their responsibilities towards children, whose role in future peace-building is crucial, they declared that “no one has the right to steal children’s dreams or their innocence”. 


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Author: Charoula Papastefanaki; Editor: Maxime Grenier

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