How Do Children End Up as Child Soldiers?

Ishmael Baeh was 11 when his country, Sierra Leone, fell into a brutal civil war. At 12, he was separated from his family and abducted by a government militia that trained him to kill and kill often—in the most inhumane ways possible. In his memoir, A Long Way Home, Baeh wrote that killing became “as easy as drinking water.” The savagery continued till UNICEF intervened and took Baeh and other child soldiers away from their commander, offering rehabilitation and a life free from guns.


Some 300,000 children around the world have been swept up into a life of violence, according to UNICEF. They are used as instruments of war; boys are trained in combat, and young girls are forced into marriage or sexually exploited.


In 2002, 159 countries signed an international treaty, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the involvement of children under 18 in conflict. As a result, crimes pertaining to child soldiers can be tried in the International Criminal Court—as in the case of Dominic Ongwen, a commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, who was abducted at 10 by the LRA and forced to fight.

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