Girls and War
For most of history, the major casualties of war were soldiers,
primarily men in armies; in the past decade, this has changed significantly.
The greatest number of people who now die in wars are civilians,
and most of these are women and children.
addition to killing, current ‘warfare’ techniques include
displacement and forced migration, kidnapping, rape, disfigurement,
destruction of property and infrastructure, and the use of children
as participants in armed groups. Because of these recently developed
techniques, girls in particular are subject to ever-increasing incidents
of great violence that eliminate their often already limited opportunities
for education, minimize access to food and health care, open opportunities
for rape in turn cause HIV/AIDS and pregnancy and eliminating a girl’s
chance for reintegration or marriage, and destroy traditional social
networks and roles. Girls are present in armed groups, through being
kidnapped or ‘volunteering’ for service.
Both Civil Society groups and the United Nations have undertaken
multiple efforts in relation to children and war. A group of non-governmental
representatives got together in the 1990s to form The Coalition to
Stop the Use of Child Soldiers; this group has worked tirelessly
to prevent the use of children in armed groups. Save the Children,
Amnesty International, Care International, The Women’s Commission
for Refugee Women and Children and the Quakers are some or the organizations
in the Coalition, each organization also doing its own work in this
In 1993, the General Assembly of the UN recommended (Resolution
48/157) that an independent expert be appointed to study the impact
of armed conflict on children. The person named to this position
was Graça Machel, who proceeded to conduct the study with
the support of UNICEF, the UNHCHR and the UNHCR. This ground-breaking
study (UN document A/51/306 and Add.1) is available on the UN website.
After the report was issued, the General Assembly recommended that
the Secretary-General appoint a Special Representative for Children
and Armed Conflict; Mr. Olarra Otunnu was named to that post in 1997.
The office was created to serve advocacy, catalytic, facilitative
and convening functions within the UN system.
UN Security Council has also taken up the issue of children and armed
conflict. Since, the Security Council has received reports from the
Secretary-General on the situation of children, and in 2003, for
the first time, the Security Council ‘named and shamed’ countries
on their agenda where children were being used as soldiers. Follow-up
to that bold initiative occurred in 2004.
Foundation documents for this work can be found on the UN website
and include: the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights
of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, and
the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As stated earlier, girls are becoming casualties of war in ever-increasing
numbers. They are victims and, when inflicting harm in conflict, become victimizers.
It is estimated by UNICEF, although not documented, that there are about
300,000 children participating in armed groups and armies around the world.
There is no figure on how many of these are girls. In the recent past, work
has been done to determine why boys participate in violent conflict situations,
and also their demobilization and reintegration needs. Until now, no work
has been done for girls. Given this dearth of information and programs, the
Quaker United Nations Offices in New York and Geneva, in conjunction with
Dr. Von Keairns of the Arsenal Family and Children’s Center in Pittsburgh,
PA, undertook a study on the demobilization and reintegration needs of girls
who have participated in armed groups.
The study, “The
Voices of Girl Child Soldiers”, was
conducted in four countries, Angola, Colombia, the Philippines and
Sri Lanka. 6-10 girls were interviewed in each country by in-country
research teams who had access to the young women, spoke their languages,
and were available for follow-up if needed. The interviews were transcribed,
translated by the research teams, and analyzed by Dr. Keairns. Results
of the study address not only the demobilization and reintegration
needs, but also the reasons why girls joined—almost three quarters
of the girls interviewed were not kidnapped, but joined the armed
group; unfortunately, almost all regretted the decision. This is
a very different profile of girls than originally conceived; the
problems of kidnapping, sexual abuse and sexual slavery was not common
to all young women in armed groups. Many of the girls stated that
they learned skills while in the armed group.
This is not a study sympathetic to the use of girls as soldiers,
indeed the lives of the young women were often horrific, and as Quakers,
we work diligently for the end of war. It is, however, a portrait
of the strength, creativity and self-efficacy of girls who find themselves
with few choices in life.
of Girl Child Soldiers” Summary Report and
country-specific reports from Colombia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines
are available on this website, as well as in hard-copy form from
the Quaker United Nations Office in New York. The Angola report is
not available. The Quaker United Nations Offices would like to thank
the UK Department for International Development, the Norwegian Government,
and UNICEF for their support in this effort.
Future work on girls and war will focus on the results of “The
Voices of Girl Child Soldiers”, in dissemination of the reports
and in raising awareness of the plight of girls.
In May of 2004 Stuart Smith, director of theater at Roseville High
School in California, premiered “Girl Child Soldiers”,
a play based on the girl soldier study and written and performed
by students. Staff of QUNO attended this performance.
Also in May of 2004, the author of the study, Dr. Von Keairns, addressed
the 157th meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Staff of QUNO is participating with the Social Science Research
Council in dialogues on the creation and use of research methodology
appropriate to child soldiers. This work has included a three-day
seminar in Nairobi on research methods with child soldiers in the
Great Lakes Region of Africa, and will continue into the foreseeable
here for more Girls & War Resources & Analysis.