Australia must do more to end plight of child soldiers

New research commissioned by World Vision, paints a disturbing picture of children as young as five fighting on the frontlines as soldiers in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  

Speaking on Red Hand Day, the international day against the use of child soldiers, World Vision Australia chief advocate Tim Costello said the research revealed that most of the children had little or no choice.  

“We have found that for many children there’s no real choice. It’s kill or be killed. They’re promised education, protection, a future, an income for their families and then lured into fighting with an idea of these hopes, hopes to belong,” he said.

“Yet tragically once they’re involved it’s just deadly, dangerous soldiering and very difficult to escape.”

The use of child soldiers is classified as a war crime under international law. However, children are frequently abducted and forced into fighting, while others choose to join forces because they are poor, hungry and feel they have no other way to survive.

Children are also often used on the frontlines as human shields, suicide bombers, spies and slaves for sexual purposes. Four out of ten child soldiers are girls.

“I’ve just returned from Northern Uganda where I met so many former child soldiers forced to fight in adult wars. It was devastating, listening to their stories, knowing they had done things, witnessed things no child should. I’ve come back even more determined to say no child should have their childhood stolen from them in this way” Mr Costello said.

The five countries leading recruitment of child soldiers are Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, according to the United Nations Secretary-General’s report 2017.

“We need the international community – including the Australian Government – to increase multi-year funding for child protection, particularly for this sector. Former child soldiers desperately need education, protection, medical and psychosocial support or they are at risk of returning to the battlefield. Yet in places countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these very sectors of education and humanitarian response are severely underfunded.”

World Vision is calling for:

  • All armed forced to prohibit the recruitment of children under the age of 18. All government and non-government forces must prohibit the use of child soldiers in law, policy and practice.
  • Adequately resource child protection and associated services. Governments, including the Australian Government, must effectively and sufficiently resource child protection, education, social protection and child health services for humanitarian responses in countries where child soldiers are frequently used. This must be done in consultation with humanitarian NGOs.

World Vision has also launched a public petition DRC The Forgotten Crisis where people can join their call on The Australia Government to do more to end the plight of child soldiers.

World Vision Australia’s chief advocate Tim Costello are available. A copy of the report, photos, vision and case studies of former child soldiers can be provided upon request.

Contact Brianna Piazza, Emergencies Communications Officer, 0408 624 934,


PHOTO: Kate Geraghty, Sydney Morning Herald

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