Child Soldiers and Peace Agreements

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Author: Sean Molloy

A child soldier is “any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms”.

For societies transitioning from conflict to peace, the phenomenon of child soldiers poses significant challenges. These challenges include: difficulties associated with how to prevent future recruitment and use of child soldiers; reintegration of serving child soldiers into normal life; and ensuring accountability both of those who utilise child soldiers, and perhaps child soldiers themselves for crimes committed in this capacity. While no one mechanism or response can address those range of issues, peace agreements, as foundational documents that serve as the blueprint for peacebuilding and the post-conflict state, can make a useful contribution and even put in place responses to some or all of them. Of peace agreements signed between 1990 and 2022, 252 agreements include some reference to children. Of these, 77 peace agreements across 32 peace processes address child soldiers. The 189 peace agreement provisions in these 77 peace agreements serve as the basis for the analysis in this report.

This report makes recommendations on how to best address the issue of child soldiers, drawing on a new dataset, the Children and Youth in Peace Agreements Database and Dataset, which codes references to children in peace agreements signed between 1990 and 2022.