Academic journal article American University International Law Review

The Extraterritorial Obligation to Prevent the Use of Child Soldiers

Academic journal article American University International Law Review

The Extraterritorial Obligation to Prevent the Use of Child Soldiers

Article excerpt


Children are recognized as a vulnerable group because, among other attributes, they are young, immature, impressionable, and physically smaller than adults.1 These traits make children particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. As conflict ravages large portions of the world, children are severely affected by the fighting. Sadly, children are often forced to fight in these wars for both governmental and non-governmental armed groups. Warring parties often abduct children from their homes or internally displaced persons camps and force them to fight-targeting them precisely because they are impressionable and immature. When children are forced to fight they are deprived of security, education, family, and other needs essential for a stable upbringing. Child soldiers are exposed to extreme violence and live in hostile conditions, which can leave permanent emotional and physical scars.

Regardless of how children end up in armies and rebel groups, whether through forced recruitment or "voluntary" enlistment, the international community recognizes that children should not be fighting wars.2 There are a variety of international and national instruments that prohibit warring factions from conscripting children.3 First, this paper discusses the global use of child soldiers, the legal framework regarding child soldiers, and state obligations to protect the rights of children. Next, this paper argues that international and national instruments create extraterritorial obligations for states to prevent the use of child soldiers beyond their own borders. Lastly, this paper examines U.S. extraterritorial obligations regarding child soldiers and the country's ability to uphold its obligations.


Images of young children draped in bullets and carrying an AK-47 are increasingly common. Government armies and rebel groups throughout the world have conscripted children into their armies, forcing them to fight on the front lines, carry provisions, act as couriers, and serve as sex slaves. The Coalition to Stop Child Soldiers has reported that between 2004 and 2007 government and rebel forces in twenty-one countries were using child soldiers.4 In 2010, the U.S. State Department reported that government forces in at least six countries used child soldiers: Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Yemen, Burma, and Somalia.5

Over the past ten years, Human Rights Watch has released numerous reports documenting the use of child soldiers throughout the world. In 2004, Liberian opposition groups and government forces used approximately 15,000 child soldiers.6 Children were kidnapped, sexually abused, forced to fight, and exposed to the amputation of enemy fighter extremities. 7 In Nepal, the Maoist rebels used children to carry provisions and ammunition to the frontlines.8 The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka recruited children as young as eleven years old to fight for them.9

In Chad, Rwanda, and Uganda, government and paramilitary forces have conscripted children. In Chad, Human Rights Watch reported the use of underage children in various regions of the country, and the U.S. State Department has said the same.10 One Chadian boy said, "The village is not safe; it is better to go to war."11 As in Liberia, children were forced to fight or were living in such dire conditions that fighting seemed like a better option than staying at home.12 During the Rwandan genocide, children were forced to kill other children, steal property, and seek out people in hiding.13 A reported 5,000 children were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda from 2002 to 2003, with the total estimate from 1986 to 2002 reaching about 20,000 children.14

In the past, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has criticized the United Kingdom, arguing that it has used child soldiers by recruiting children into its army at the age of sixteen.15 Although the U. …

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