The Paris Principles define a child associated with an armed force or group as:
...any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. The document is approved by the United Nations General Assembly. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.
Due to the widespread military use of children in areas where armed conflict and insecurity prevent access by UN officials and other third parties, it is difficult to estimate how many children are affected. In 2017 Child Soldiers International estimated that several tens of thousands of children, possibly more than 100,000, were in state- and non-state military organizations around the world, and in 2018 the organization reported that children were being used to participate in at least 18 armed conflicts.
As of 2017Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Israel and State of Palestine, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, Colombia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand. Child Soldiers International produces a world map showing where children are members of military organizations around the world.
, the UN list of countries where children are known to be used in armed conflict Situations on the agenda of the Security Council includes:
Since 2008 Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire have been removed from the UN list of countries where children are used in hostilities. Once children have been released from military service, they typically need support to rejoin their communities. The rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers is an important part of a peace process but is expensive and requires the participation of whole communities.
Child soldiers and the law
Children aged under 15
The Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (1977, Art. 77.2), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) all forbid state armed forces and non-state armed groups from using children under the age of 15 directly in armed conflict (technically "hostilities"). This is now recognised as a war crime.
Children aged under 18
Most states with armed forces are also bound by the higher standards of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) (2000) and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999), which forbid the compulsory recruitment of those under the age of 18. OPAC also requires governments that still recruit children (from age 16) to "take all feasible measures to ensure that persons below the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities". In addition, OPAC forbids non-state armed groups from recruiting children under any circumstances, although the legal force of this is uncertain.
Movement to end the military use of children
The military use of children has been common throughout history; only in recent decades has the practice met with informed criticism and concerted efforts to end it. A number of international organizations are active against the use of children as soldiers. These organizations include, for example, Amnesty International, Child Soldiers International, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Terre des hommes, and the United Nations Child Fund (UNICEF).