UNICEF Is Working to Free Child Soldiers Around the World

February 12, 2019

For over 70 years, UNICEF has been putting children first, working to protect their rights and provide the assistance and services they need to survive and thrive all over the world. 


The recruitment and use of children during conflict is one of the six grave violations of international law identified and condemned by the UN Security Council, yet tens of thousands of children are being killed, maimed, sexually assaulted and forced to fight in armed conflicts around the world. 


The UN's latest Children and Armed Conflict Report monitors the violation of children's human rights in 20 conflict-ridden countries and cites verified cases of recruitment and use of children in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen, among others. 


In the video below, James describes how he was abducted by militia members in South Sudan when he was 14 and forced to become a soldier. "They told me, 'Fight for us, or die.' I tried to escape and run away, but they stopped me," he says. "I had to fight against my own people. I closed my eyes every time I had to fire. I didn't want to hit someone from my village." 



For six months, James was forced to fight. Wounded in a gun battle, he was left for dead and woke up days later in a hospital in Juba, far from home. UNICEF helped him recover and eventually reunite with his mother and six sisters.  Three years after he disappeared, James was finally home again.


More than 19,000 children in South Sudan are still being used by armed groups and armed forces. UNICEF South Sudan is advocating with the government and armed groups to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict.


On Feb. 12, 119 children were released by an armed group in Yambio, South Sudan, bringing the total number of those freed since the conflict began to more than 3,100. The group included 48 girls; the youngest child released was 10 years old.  "Every child no longer with an armed group represents a childhood restored and a future regained," said UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, who visited South Sudan in January last year.  


Around the world, UNICEF has helped more than 8,700 children released from armed groups reintegrate into civilian life and find their families since 2017. UNICEF and partners provide released children with medical care, counseling, education, vocational training and a safe place to live while they recover from the trauma they've experienced.


Please support UNICEF's work around the world to free child soldiers and reunite them with their families. 




UNICEF and partners are working tirelessly in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Bangladesh and around the world to save and protect children. With a presence in 190 countries and territories, UNICEF has helped save more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. 


Top photo: With UNICEF's support, more than 200 children were released from the ranks of armed groups at a ceremony in Yambio, South Sudan in April 2018. The children will receive medical care, counseling, vocational training and a safe place to live while they readjust to civilian life. © UNICEF/UN0202133/Rich