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5 myths about child soldiers

This Sunday is Red Hand Day - also known as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Children across the world share red hand prints to call on world leaders to stop the use of children in armed groups.

There's lots of misinformation out there about children associated with armed groups.

This Red Hand Day, we want to set the record straight on 5 of the most common myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1

Child soldiers are used as fighters

Not all are actually used as soldiers. They can also be used as porters, cooks, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes,

The term ‘child soldier’ isn't very accurate. It conjures up images of children in uniforms fighting with guns.

Instead we speak of Children Associated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups (CAAFAGs).

It's important to recognise that children do not have to take part directly in hostilities to be severely affected by them.

Myth #2

Child soldiers are all African

There is a misconception that CAAFAGs are all in Africa.

Whilst it is a serious issue in many African nations, it is a worldwide problem.

In 2016, the UN estimated that there were 20 conflict situations around the world involving children in armed groups, including Myanmar, Central African Republic, Colombia and Afghanistan.

The use of children by armed forces and groups is one of the worst violations in war across the globe.

Myth #3

Child soldiers are all boys

Girls are also recruited or forced into armed groups and it's estimated that up to 30-40% of CAAFAGs are girls.

Like boys, girls are often used for combat.

They are also especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and are often forced into early marriage and sexual slavery (it should be noted that boys are also a target of sexual abuse in many countries).

Myth #4

Child soldiers are abducted into armed groups

In many famous cases this is absolutely true. For example, The Lord's Resistance Army and ISIS are kidnapping or using force to recruit children.

But there are also many 'volunteer' recruitments into armed groups.

Some children are indoctrinated and others are lured in by promises of education, security, money and status. Having no access to school, employment or even food are just some of the reasons that leave children no other choice but to join.

Making a distinction between forced and voluntary recruitment is difficult, because the lines are often blurred.

Myth #5

It's easy for released child soldiers to regain their childhood

The risks to children in armed groups are huge. Even if they're released or escape, the after-effects can last a lifetime.

Children can face stigma, exclusion and the consquences of their traumatic experience. They may find their families have been killed in conflict – or sometimes they are rejected by their own communities.

War Child works to tackle this stigma and exclusion.

Our child friendly spaces have dedicated areas for listening sessions where children can share any distress, worry or trauma they are going through. If needed, we refer them to specialist services to provide further support.

We also work closely with families and communities to make sure they are equipped to reintegrate children back into day-to-day life.

Syrian children take action for Red Hand Day

This Sunday is Red Hand Day - also known as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.

It was started in 2002 and is commemorated every year to call on world leaders to stop the use of children in armed groups. In 2008 children across the world collected and presented over 250,000 prints of red hands from 101 countries to the UN.

This week Syrian children from one of our youth groups in Jordan joined the global campaign to raise awareness and stand against the use of children in armed groups.