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Medical News and Perspectives
August 4, 2004

Reclaiming Child Soldiers' Lost Lives

JAMA. 2004;292(5):553-554. doi:10.1001/jama.292.5.553

An estimated 300 000 children and adolescents serve in rebel armies and government forces in 30 to 50 countries, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports .

Many of these young people were abducted and forced to serve, despite international policy that bans compulsory recruitment of children and adolescents younger than 18 years into armed conflict. (This policy is detailed in a treaty known as the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.) Some children and adolescents were pressured into joining by relatives or others. Some enlisted as a way to escape poverty or abuse, sometimes seeing the armed group as a surrogate family. Girls may have joined to evade an arranged marriage. Some youths volunteered for altruistic reasons.

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