In 2001, it was reported that some 300,000 child soldiers were operating in 41 countries -- a third of which are in Africa.
Children sometimes serve with government armies and, more often, with armed opposition groups. Sometimes they are conscripted by governments, sometimes forcibly recruited by rebels. Some "volunteer" in order to survive. Many are tortured or treated brutally by the forces with which they serve. Some have died from abuse or starvation. All have been denied a normal childhood, notably by being forced to kill or torture others.
Despite the protection afforded to children under the law, they continue to be recruited into the armed forces and to participate in hostilities. Boy soldiers, aged fifteen or less, appeared in the Nazi forces at the end of the world war in Europe. Children have been recruited by the Viet Cong, by the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea and Thailand, by terrorist groups for action against Israel, by the Khomeini regime in Iran to fight the war with Iraq, by radical groups in Northern Ireland and by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Children fighters are also reported in Afghanistan, El Salvador, Colombia, Uganda and Ethiopia.
A recent example is in Sierra Leone, where rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) recruited an estimated 5,400 children. Many of them were abducted or drugged into submission. They joined fighters in raping, killing and chopping off limbs of thousands of men, women and children.
In 2001, the 12-year-old Burmese warrior twins were captured by the Thai military and returned to their family. The twins led the God's Army cult and became emblematic of the tragedy of child soldiers around the world and particularly in Burma where, for decades, government forces and ethnic militias have recruited children.