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.
Lamberg L. Reclaiming Child Soldiers' Lost Lives. JAMA. 2004;292(5):553-554. doi:10.1001/jama.292.5.553