Exploration 2C: Focus on Child “Soldiers”


Exploration 2A introduced students to the rules of war, and Exploration 2B provided examples of precursors to those rules of international humanitarian law (IHL). Exploration 2C looks in depth at one evolving area of IHL: the rules governing the recruitment and use of children by armed forces or groups.

It begins by taking a look at childhood and the needs of children. It then uses photos, a film and readings to communicate to students the experiences of child soldiers, and to help them understand the consequences of these experiences for the children themselves and for their societies. Finally, the exploration looks at the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts around the world in such a way that no one can dismiss this practice as occurring in ‘another part of the world.’

This course is three 45-min sessions.


  • To become aware of the scope of the practices of recruiting and using boys and girls in war and the consequences of these practices
  • To understand the need for a minimum age for the recruitment and use of children in war
  • To learn that both IHL and human rights law prohibit the recruitment and use of children under 15 in armed conflict and that many countries have formally accepted a new law that raises this age limit to 18 years

Key Ideas

  • Children must be protected in armed conflicts.
  • One form of protection is setting and respecting a minimum age for recruiting children into armed forces or groups or using them in armed conflict.
  • Under IHL and human rights law, a person under the age of 15 may not be recruited by armed forces or groups or used for any purpose in armed conflict. A more recent law raises this minimum age to 18 years.


In the Methodology Guide, review teaching method 6 (Using stories, photos and videos) and workshops 4 (“Using photographs to explore human dignity”), 5 (“Building on students’ ideas: The basics of international humanitarian law”) and 6 (“Viewing videos: Focus on child soldiers”).

If possible, view the relevant chapters of the teacher video (Viewing videos: Preparation and discussion and Student presentations: “If you could speak to the world”).



Children and Their Needs

(10 minutes)

Begin with a discussion about children and their particular needs.

Possible questions:

  • What is a ‘child’?
  • At what age can a young person no longer be called a ‘child’? (What is a teenager? An adult?)
  • What are the basic needs of children?
  • What can happen if these needs are not met?

  • 2

    Think About a Minimum Age

    (25 minutes)

    Present “Photo collage 2C,” of child soldiers from around the world. Have each student or group choose one photo and explain why they chose it.

    Possible questions:

  • What are your reactions?
  • How old are the children in these photos?
  • Divide the class into small groups, and have each group discuss the following questions and reach an agreement on the minimum age for the recruitment and use of children by armed forces or groups:

  • Should there be a minimum age before someone may be recruited or used by an armed force or armed group?
  • What should this be? Why?
  • In the EHL programme, ‘child soldier’ means a child who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity. This includes children who have been used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes. It does not refer only to children who take a direct part in fighting.

    Have all groups report and explain how they reached their decisions. Present the graph “What should be the minimum age for combatants?”

    Possible questions:

  • Should international law stipulate the age before which children may not be recruited or used by armed forces or groups? Why?

  • 3

    What does international law say

    (20 minutes)

    Present “What does international law say?”.

    After they have learned about the definition of ‘child’ as provided by international law, have students review their ideas on the subject.

    Then ask them to compare their conclusions on the minimum age for recruiting or using children in armed conflict and the age set by international law.

    Possible questions:

  • Are you surprised by these rules? Why or why not?
  • Ask students how they think children might be used in armed conflict. Have them give examples.
  • [For example: as combatants, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes]

    Explain that the protections provided by international law cover the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Then have students brainstorm about how to enforce the law with regard to child soldiers.

    Possible questions:

  • How do you think governments and armed groups could make sure that the rules on child soldiers are followed?
  • Why do you think respecting and ensuring respect for the law on child soldiers can be particularly difficult?

  • 4

    Why do Children Become Combatants

    (15 minutes)

    Point out that, despite the rules on the recruitment and use of children in armed forces and groups, this practice continues in many parts of the world.


  • Since international law prohibits the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, why is it that children become combatants? boys became soldiers.
  • Possible questions:

  • In your opinion, why do armed forces or groups want to use children in armed conflict?
  • Why would a young person join an armed force or group?
  • Sample responses follow.

    Why commanders want them:

  • They don’t ask questions; they follow orders
  • They can be easily controlled
  • They can be made martyrs
  • Need for fighters
  • They are not fully aware of the risks
  • Why young people might join:

  • Revenge, anger
  • No parental/family support
  • Self-protection
  • Poverty, means of survival
  • Their societies value warfare, heroism, martyrdom
  • Peer pressure

  • 5

    Consequences of the Use of Child Soldiers

    (50 minutes)

    Introduce and view the video I don’t want to go back, in which students will meet two former child soldiers (a boy and a girl) and a commander. Plan to show the video twice.

    After the first viewing, ask students for their initial thoughts and feelings.

    Possible questions:

  • What are your reactions?
  • What led Comfort to want to become a child soldier? What additional risks do girl child soldiers face?
  • How old is Abraham? When did he become a child soldier?
  • How did he become a child soldier? (child’s view and commander’s view)
  • To help students with the discussion and as preparation for the second viewing, distribute copies of the transcript. Have them reflect on the initial remarks made by Comfort and Abraham.

    Use the transcript and students’ memory of I don’t want to go back to discuss the views expressed by Abraham’s commander.

    Possible questions:

  • What do you learn about the situation for children in war from the commander’s remarks?
  • Why are child soldiers likely to behave differently from adult soldiers?
  • Have students study the last part of the transcript in order to discuss what they can learn from the feelings expressed by Abraham.
  • Possible questions:

  • What were this child soldier’s experiences and what were their consequences for him?
  • What does Todorov’s statement mean?
  • Show the video a second time. Then encourage students to express any new insights or reactions they may have.
  • Have students write down answers to the following questions. Then conduct a discussion based on their views.
  • What are the consequences of children taking part in war? For the child? For the family? For society?
  • In the video, whose human dignity was affected? How?

  • 6

    The Global use of Child Soldiers

    (15 minutes)

    Begin by asking students what they know about the use of child soldiers in different contexts around the world.

    Possible question:

  • What countries do you know of in which child soldiers have been used?
  • Present the map “Child soldiers around the world.”

    Possible questions:

  • What conclusion(s) do you draw from this map?
  • What can you say about the use of child soldiers in your part of the world?
  • [For example, that child soldiers are being used in many countries, on four continents, in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and not just in 'developing countries']