(Reuters) - The end of a series of West African wars has reduced the number of child soldiers but underage war veterans remain vulnerable and despite widespread international condemnation children continue to be sucked in to conflicts.
Globally, the U.N. children’s fund UNICEF estimates there are some 250,000 child soldiers — down from a previous estimate of 300,000 several years ago. But other experts say information is so hazy hard figures are impossible to determine.
Below is a fact box showing countries where children are reportedly used to fight. Most groups listed deny involvement in underage recruitment.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Of an estimated 33,000 children fighting for armed groups at the height of the 1998-2003 war, the U.N. says some 4,000 remain active in army brigades, militias and foreign rebel groups mainly in the east.
ENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC — UNICEF says 450 to 500 children have been released by rebel forces this year but rights workers are still concerned over children in both government forces and rebels in the ongoing, worsening civil war.
CHAD — Some estimates say 7,000 to 10,000 children are fighting for the national army, rebel or militia groups as a domestic conflict worsens and fighting spills over into Chad from neighboring Darfur. The government committed in February to rid itself of child soldiers and some were released but Human Rights Watch says children remain in the military.
SUDAN — Save the Children says despite a peace deal southern rebels have tried to re-recruit freed child soldiers. Information on child soldier use in the Darfur region is limited, but is reported among rebels.
SOMALIA — Access is practically impossible given violence, experts say, but widespread use of child soldiers is suspected including by Islamists and militias.
UGANDA — Experts say the Lord’s Resistance Army seized some 25,000 children in its 20-year war with the government. Recruitment has largely stopped since a late 2006 truce, but activists say many child soldiers remain with the rebels.
AFGHANISTAN — There are limited reports of child soldier use by Taliban forces, but little hard evidence.
INDONESIA — Reports of recruitment by rebel groups.
NEPAL — Human Rights Watch estimates between 6,000 and 9,000 out of an estimated 31,000 Marxist guerrillas are children, few of whom have been freed despite last year’s peace deal.
MYANMAR (BURMA) — Old estimates put tens of thousands of children in both government and rebel forces, used as combat troops, porters and a variety of other roles. Some rebel groups have committed themselves to removing children from their ranks, but rights groups say there is little hard evidence.
PHILIPPINES — UNICEF says both southern Islamist and leftist rebels use children under 18 in combat and support tasks, usually recruiting voluntarily.
SRI LANKA — UNICEF accuses both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels and former rebels the Karuna group of abducting children, who have been used by both sides since a 2002 ceasefire collapsed last year. Witnesses say the Karuna group acts in support of and with complicity of government forces.
IRAQ — Widespread violence makes proper surveillance impossible, but activists say children are unquestionably involved in fighting.
COLOMBIA — Widespread child recruitment still reported by FARC rebels.