The new ILO Convention No 182 concerning the prohibition
and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child
labour, adopted by the International Labour Conference in June 1999,
includes the practice of forced or compulsory recruitment and enlistment
of any person under 18 years of age to be used in armed conflict.
This breakthrough provides a new impetus in the
struggle to overcome this problem by broadening the constituency
to include not only governments, international organizations and
NGOs, but workers' and employers' organizations and IPEC itself.
It follows the African Organization for Unity resolution
of July 1998 voicing unanimous support for international agreements
on the minimum age of 18 for recruitment of soldiers.
There are currently estimated to be over 300,000
children under the age of 18 fighting in 36 conflicts around the
world. Children of both sexes are trained as front-line fighters
and are also used for support duties. Many of these young people
are recruited by force.
Situations of conflict and war currently exist
around the globe in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific,
Europe and Latin America.
It is clear that as child soldiers are forcibly
recruited or press ganged in situations and places where there is
little or no rule of law, the task of preventing their exploitation
is difficult. The new Convention therefore is a major new instrument
in the struggle for prevention.
The mental and physical condition of children who
are disarmed often verges on the unrecoverable. They have been drugged,
traumatized and dehumanized. Their behaviour can be violent and
unpredictable. They often cannot be reunited with their families
as their training included violence against their own communities.
They have been used to obtaining money and food with their weapons.
Older children of school age cannot always be streamed into regular
education because of their condition and attitude. Long-term vocational
training is needed to address such situations.
ILO has already been active in the field of reintegrating
adult ex-combatants, with a programme for conflict-affected countries
and has undertaken a number of studies, consultancies, projects
and seminars related to employment in countries moving from war
to peace-building. It has also published a manual on training and
employment options for ex-combatants. Roles in advocacy to stimulate
rapid demobilization and social integration now seem possible with
the voting of the new Convention.
As the new Convention establishes mechanisms for
monitoring to ensure effective implementation, IPEC will have a
role to play. Its experience in rehabilitation of children removed
from the worst forms of child labour as well as in preventive work
will be of great practical use.
Children in armed conflict in Indonesia
Although no figures are known at the moment, the
ILO has received information from NGOs in Aceh that children were
forced to work in the military camps of the Indonesian Army. The
media also reported that the Aceh Movement for Independence or Gerakan
Aceh Merdeka (GAM). They are reported to have been involved in torturing
captives, all kinds of services to soldiers, and spying upon their
Children have also been reported to be involved
in the armed conflict in Ambon. Here, they have been seen joining
the fighting itself. It is not clear if they have been forced to
do so. More likely is that they join their families in the fighting.
Definition of child soldiers
Child soldier means any person under 18 years of
age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force
or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks,
porters, messengers and those accompanying such groups, other than
purely as family members. It includes girls recruited for sexual
purposes and forced marriage. It does not, therefore, refer uniquely
to a child who is carrying or has carried arms.