Reviews Personal views

Conscription of children in armed conflict

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7298.1372 (Published 02 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1372
  1. D G H de Silva, professor of paediatrics and head of national child protection authority,
  2. C J Hobbs, consultant community paediatrician
  1. Colombo, Sri Lanka, and
  2. Leeds

    The history of childhood abuse includes accounts of child murder, abandonment, prostitution, and child labour. Abuse of children in war is a modern issue brought to our attention in Sri Lanka, where civil war has lasted for about 20 years. One of the more distressing aspects has been the conscription of children. Globally, Amnesty International estimates that over 300 000 children under 18 are fighting in armed conflicts, with many under the age of 15.

    They became bored and restless, and developed obsessions about blood, killing, and torture

    Our experience is likely to mirror experience elsewhere. We found evidence in these child soldiers of psychological maltreatment, trauma, and neglect of human rights. Children were often recruited from poorer families already suffering from the war. All underwent indoctrination, aimed to encourage hatred of the enemy.

    The children were involved in manual labour, guard duty, frontline fighting, and use …

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