An estimated 200,000 children are under arms worldwide, most of them forcibly recruited but some urged to enlist by their parents, a report to a United Nations human rights meeting says.
Officers submit the youths to physical brutality, do not brief them properly about the danger of their missions and punish them arbitrarily, according to one account cited in the report by the London-based Friends World Committee for Consultation, a Quaker organization.Some youths receive military education, including training for pillaging, spying and terrorism, the report said.
Dated January 1988, the data were compiled for a working group meeting this week of the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, whose parent body is the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Media reports and private research were the main sources.
"Most of the estimated 200,000 children now under arms do not seem to have been moved to go to war primarily for economic gain or for job-holding or for a career," the report said.
Parents sometimes urge children to enlist to get food privileges, priority in employment or payments if the child dies in battle, it said.
According to the survey, examples of the problem reportedly included:
- Illegal street roundups in Afghanistan to recruit youths under 15.
- Abduction of boys under the legal draft age of 18 by army recruiters in El Salvador.
- Forced participation by minors in the Guatemalan army's civil defense patrols.
- Lowering of Iran's conscription age to 13, with voluntary enlistment by parental consent for younger children.
- Introduction by South Africa of compulsory military training at age 16 in South-West Africa, also known as Namibia.
- Use of boys as young as 12 by Nicaragua's Contra rebels and forced recruitment of at least 3,000 youngsters by government forces.
- Use of volunteers under age 15 in Honduras and Morocco.
The report said not much is known about payment, veterans' benefits or education and employment training opportunities for soldiers under 15. That's the minimum age of recruitment set out in the 1977 Protocols on International Humanitarian Law, an annex to the Geneva Conventions.