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There are around 300,000 child soldiers in the world today

Over 300,000 children are currently serving as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. Some 30 countries, including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and East Timor, incorporate children in various capacities involving government, paramilitary and opposition activities.

These children are denied a childhood -- something that most of us take for granted and usually have happy memories of. Many are abducted or recruited by force, while others join out of desperation. Easily intimidated and vulnerable, they are often compelled to follow orders under the threat of death.

These young soldiers take part in all forms of contemporary combat. They "play" with weapons like AK-47s and M-16s on the front lines of conflicts, participate in suicide missions, act as spies, messengers and suppliers, and even take part in suicide missions.

Child soldiers deal with horrific acts of violence on a daily basis. In Sierra Leone, thousands of children, abducted by rebel forces, witnessed terrible atrocities against civilians including beheadings, amputations, rape and burning of people alive. "So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn't dare cry out loud," says one 14-year-old girl abducted in 1999 by rebel groups in Sierra Leone. In Columbia, children as young as eight are recruited by the government-backed paramilitary troops.

Girls too also used as soldiers. Often they are not just given combat duties but are also subject to sexual abuse. Hundreds are taken as "wives" for rebel leaders in African countries plagued by civil unrest.

Child soldiers are denied access to proper education. They aren't given a chance to develop basic, civic and social skills, and suffer higher casualties than their adult counterparts because of their immaturity, vulnerability and lack of experience. Even after conflicts are resolved, they are left physically disabled and psychologically traumatised. Schooled only in war, many former child soldiers turn to a life of crime or become easy prey for future recruitment.

InfoChange News & Features, July 2006

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