SMALL ARMS AND CHILDREN IN ARMED CONFLICT

 

Small arms* deeply afflict children in armed conflict because

Women and children represent the majority of today's conflict casualties. They endure the effects of small arms and light weapons the most. Not only are children often the victims of conflict, the weight and size of small arms makes them easy for children to use and encourages the use of children as combatants. A child as young as eight years of age can easily be taught to fire an assault rifle or machine gun.

After a conflict, small arms may become instruments for other forms of violence such as crime and banditry, disruption of economic or foreign aid, and interference with efforts to deliver food, medicine, and supplies to people in dire need of relief. Refugees are often afraid to return to their homes because of the large number of weapons still in the hands of civilians. In some societies, these surplus weapons may create a culture of violence that traps whole societies in an endless cycle of war. Children are not immune from these negative effects, and it is often they who pay the biggest price, in terms of safety, health, lives, and future opportunities.

Although the link between arms and conflict is well established, and their negative effects on children clear, countries continue to send billions of dollars in military aid - both arms and training - to countries around the world engaged in or on the brink of armed conflict. Particularly troubling is the arming of countries and groups that use children under 18 in their militaries. The United States is the world's number one arms exporter and a major supplier of military aid and training to conflicts where child soldiers are used. In some of these countries, such as Cambodia, Colombia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, children as young as eight have reportedly been recruited by government or paramilitary forces.

 

*Small arms are weapons that can be carried and used by one or two people, including handguns, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns and light mortars. Light weapons, ammunition, grenades, landmines, and explosives are also part of this category.

 

The Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) is an alliance of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations working together to promote change in U.S. policies on small arms. SAWG members believe that small arms proliferation must be countered by more responsible policies on legal sales and international cooperation to reduce illicit trafficking.