child soldiers
Human rights group Amnesty International has documented the use or alleged use of child soldiers in 19 countries, including Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Yemen. REUTERS

To end the practice of using child soldiers in various parts of the world, a stricter arms trade treaty must be adopted, human rights group Amnesty International said Monday.

The United Nations will convene in March for final talks on the Arms Trade Treaty, which will determine international standards for the transfer of arms across borders.

“The current draft ATT text proposes weak rules to help prevent arms transfers to states or groups using child soldiers,” Amnesty said in a press release. “The draft rules to respect existing international human rights law and international humanitarian law could be circumvented.”

In particular, Amnesty criticized the draft treaty’s rule on preventing violence against children because it only requests that states “consider taking feasible measures,” and fails to provide effective regulations against the illegal transfer of arms while making no mention of ammunition.

“Poorly regulated international arms transfers continue to contribute to the recruitment and use of boys and girls under the age of 18 in hostilities by armed groups and, in some cases, government forces,” Amnesty said.

The human rights groups is demanding an increase in international efforts to prevent such arms transfers, particularly in countries where Amnesty has documented use of child soldiers, including Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Yemen.

“Amnesty International’s recent research on the ground in Mali has revealed once more the horrors faced by child soldiers who are being recruited in numerous conflicts around the world to support troops and armed groups, sometimes in frontline roles,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s head of arms control and human rights, in a statement.

Amnesty documented reports of several child soldiers in Mali and interviewed one captured child soldier who was 16 years old.

“Two months ago, the grandson of my master sold us to the Islamists,” the teenage boy told Amnesty, referring to a rebel faction that has taken over parts of northern Mali in the past year. “We joined a group of 14 other young people carrying firearms.”

“They trained us to shoot, aiming at the heart or feet,” he continued. “Before the fighting, we had to eat rice mixed with a white powder and a sauce with a red powder. We also had injections … After these injections and eating the rice mixed with powder, I would turn like a motor vehicle -- I could do anything for my masters. I perceived our enemies like they were dogs and all that was in my mind was to shoot them.”

Mali, as with other countries where children are recruited to fight, is embroiled in an armed conflict that the central government has been too weak to contain, let alone prevent human rights violations.

“Apart from the tragedy of becoming perpetrators of human rights abuses themselves, many child soldiers are killed, maimed, or are victims of rape and other sexual violence,” said Amnesty.

“Halting the use of child soldiers in conflicts is just one more compelling reason why countries must adopt a strong Arms Trade Treaty with effective rules to protect human rights,” it added.