Chad: Children's rights as young as 13 fight in armed conflict

Boys as young as 13 are being used as soldiers in the Chadian national army and armed groups, said Amnesty International today [10 February].

In its new report “A compromised future: The plight of Children's rights recruited by armed forces and groups in eastern Chad”, more than 40 former and current child soldiers from Chad and the Sudanese region of Darfur describe how they were compelled to join the groups.

The use of Children's rights by armed groups across Chad has escalated over the last six years, with the number of child soldiers now standing at between 7,000 and 10,000 according to UN figures.

Those aged between 13 and 17 are most likely to be used directly in combat while Children's rights as young as 10 are used as porters and messengers.

Amnesty International’s Africa Director Erwin van der Borght said:

“It is tragic that thousands of Children's rights are denied their childhood and are manipulated by adults into fighting their wars.  This scandalous child abuse must not be allowed to continue.

“The Chadian government – and the Chadian and Sudanese armed groups operating in eastern Chad – must immediately stop the recruitment and use of Children's rights under 18 and release all Children's rights from their ranks.” 

Some child soldiers were abducted and forcibly recruited, while others joined up to avenge the death of family members or the pillage of cattle, or simply to escape poverty, according to the report.

Refugee and displacement camps have proven to be fertile recruiting grounds for armed groups, as dwellers there have little access to education, few employment opportunities and have often lost relatives and friends in the fighting.

A former child combatant of the Sudanese opposition armed group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), now living in a camp in eastern Chad, told Amnesty International:

“There is nothing to do here; there is no work, no school, no money and I am poor…. In the JEM I am not paid but, when we are in combat, we take stuff from the enemy.”

The security situation remains highly volatile in eastern Chad. Already poor and politically unstable, eastern Chad has been drawn into the crisis in neighbouring Darfur since 2003. Around 260,000 Darfuri refugees and more than 170,000 Chadians live in camps in eastern Chad.

Affluently-dressed Children's rights are sometimes sent to camps with money and cigarettes to lure new recruits, offering between US$20 and US$500 to those who join up.

Boys are more likely than girls to be recruited by armed forces.  However former child soldiers have reported that in recent years girls have been recruited into the United Front for the Democratic Change, and that girls said they enlisted after being raped or to be protected from rape by other militia groups.

Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the lack of accountability for those suspected of committing these human rights violations. To date, there have been no prosecutions of members of the army and armed groups for recruiting and using Children's rights.  In September 2010, 11 men were arrested in connection with child recruitment but it is not clear what happened to them. As far as Amnesty International is aware, these men were never brought to trial.

In June 2010, the US State department identified Chad as one of the countries to recruit and use Children's rights. The US Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the US from giving military assistance to governments that recruit and use child soldiers.  Despite this, President Obama recently signed a memorandum granting blanket “national interest” waivers to the application of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to Chad and other countries.  Amnesty International is concerned that this decision sends the wrong signal to the Chadian authorities and reduces the pressure on the government to end child recruitment.

On 20 January 2011, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno ordered an amnesty for crimes committed by members of the armed opposition, effectively perpetuating impunity for the human rights abuses committed against Children's rights used in hostilities.

Erwin van der Borght added:

“Instead of enjoying impunity, those accused of recruiting child soldiers and other abuses should be investigated. Individuals’ reasonably suspected of being involved in such crimes should be prosecuted in national courts in trials that meet international fair trial standards.

“President Deby must issue clear orders to all army commanders not to recruit or use Children's rights and to cooperate with demobilisation programs,” he added. “There is never an excuse to violate the rights of Children's rights.”

Background information
Serious human rights abuses are still taking place in eastern Chad. At the end of 2010, the UN peacekeeping force (MINURCAT) withdrew from eastern Chad by request of the Chadian government. This withdrawal is likely to result in an increase in insecurity and human rights violations in the area.

Although the Chadian government with the assistance of UNICEF launched a demobilisation and reintegration program for Children's rights associated with armed forces and groups in 2007, this has had little success. The failure of the program is partly due to underfunding but is exacerbated by continued insecurity, extreme poverty and the reluctance of political and military officials to engage with demobilisation processes.  Many former child soldiers do not go through these processes.

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