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Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder of BTFF

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Forgotten in the Shadows of War: Female Child Soldiers

Female child combatants are overlooked both in the media, as well as in the rehabilitation process.  All too often, female child soldiers are also expected to perform sexual services for older male soldiers; in many countries of conflict, girls in armed forces are claimed by militia leaders as “wives.”

The use of child soldiers in armed conflict plagues our global society, as thousands of children continue to be recruited into armed conflict by both government forces and armed rebel groups in spite global efforts to combat the continued use of children. UNICEF estimates there are some 300,000 child soldiers actively fighting in at least 30 countries across the globe with the majority, an estimated 200,000 in Africa. According to PE Singers book, Children at War, he estimates that 43 percent of all armed organizations in the world use child soldiers, 90 percent of whom see combat.

Unfortunately the use of child soldiers is not a new topic; throughout time children have been used in military conflict. However there is on story in the plight of these children that is too often untold.  While the conditions of armed conflict leave few, if anyone, in a conflict zone unaffected, however in the case of child soldiers is the struggle of young boys who are thrust into both the minds of most, and who are more likely to be seen in the media’s coverage.

Those children abducted and forcibly recruited to fight in rebel armies who are often lost in the shadows are that of the girl child soldier.  According to Save the Children, in their 2005 report, Forgotten Casualties of War: Girls in Armed Conflict, of those children caught in the violent and deadly conflicts across the globe, some 40 percent, or 120,000 child soldiers are girls.  As with boys, the majority of girl child soldiers are abducted or forcibly recruited into armed groups which include government-backed paramilitaries, militias, self-defense forces to anti-government opposition, and rebel factions who often based on ideological, partisan, ethnic or religious differences.

Undoubtedly armed conflict compounds all families and communities ability to protect children, regardless of their sex; however girls, many who are already living in patriarchal dominated societies where they are marginalized socially and culturally, as well as often sexually or physically abused, in times of peace.  Girls often not only serve as active combatants, but also perform other military services, from intelligence and medical support to cleaning and cooking.  Gender inequality follows girls into the ranks as many girls are raped, used as sex slaves to service the troops and, or are forced into pseudo marriages with their rebel commanders.

Previously published by Cassandra Clifford, please continue reading the three part series on the Foreign Policy Association: Children's Rights Blog:  http://children.foreignpolicyblogs.com/2011/02/19/forgotten-in-the-shadows-of-war/

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