Essay by scojop October 2004

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At any one time, more than 300,000 children under 18 - both girls and boys - are fighting as soldiers in more than 30 countries worldwide. In more than 85 countries many more under-18s have been recruited into government armed forces, paramilitaries, civil militia and other armed groups. Millions of children worldwide also receive military training and indoctrination in youth movements and even in their schools.

Many governments and armed groups claim to use children because of a shortage of adult recruits. It is more likely that they are used because they are thought to be cheap, expendable and easier to condition into fearless killing and unthinking obedience. However, kids are often given drugs and alcohol before they are sent into battle, so they lose their sense of fear

The invention of small arms made it much easy to arm children - even an 8 year old can carry an AK47.

Children are frequently recruited forcibly from schools, churches, and refugee camps, but some join of their own accord out of desperation. Many have no food or homes. They might be orphans, or they might have been brainwashed into believing that they are fighting for a just cause. Once they become soldiers, some do not want to go home because they are hooked on fighting and belonging to a powerful group.

Many children fight in the front line and others are used as spies, messengers, sentries, porters, servants and sexual slaves. Children are often forced to commit atrocities, even against their own families and friends. Many are forced to sweep roads with tree branches or brooms to detect and detonate mines. This is not how childhood should be.

The full psychological impact on children of armed conflict, especially if they have been forced to commit atrocities, is only just beginning...