Children at both ends of the gun: towards a comprehensive legal approach to the problem of child soldiers in Africa
Mezmur, Benyam Dawit
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While the participation of children in armed conflict has been evident for some time, internal community mobilization on the issue is fairly recent. In 1993, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted resolution 48/157 in response to a request by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.At the present the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reports that approximately 300,000 children in over 40 countries worldwide are engaged in armed conflict. Of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers in the world, 120,000 can be found in Africa alone.Apart from making them direct combatants, both governments and armed groups use children as messengers, lookouts, porters, spies able to enter small spaces, and even use them as suicide bombers and human mine detectors. In the due course of such use and abuse children are forced to kill or are themselves killed, sexually assaulted, raped, forced to become wives of the commanders, exposed to drugs and forced labour, showing the cross cutting nature and magnitude of the problem of child soldiers.There are a variety of international legal standards which, at first glance, seem to give some direction and guidance in the protection of child soldiers. In spite of these legal instruments for the protection of child soldiers in Africa, however, much remains to be done as the problem is continuing at a larger scale every day and new challenges keep cropping up. This study will look into ways of addressing these problems in the context of Africa.Therefore, in order to address the issue to the best possible level, the normative framework in place may need to be strengthened. Moreover, in an attempt to be comprehensive in addressing the problem, ways of dealing with child soldiers who have allegedly committed atrocities during armed conflict should be included. This piece explores how these issues could possibly be addressed to provide for protection to the child soldier in Africa.