World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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12 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 43

The World Council of Churches is to speak out against the recruitment of child soldiers after hearing that one revolutionary army forces boys to shoot their parents dead in a brutal initiation ceremony.

The Eighth Assembly of the WCC, meeting at Harare, Zimbabwe, was presented on Saturday (12 December) with a draft public statement on the issue, which it will be invited to ratify on Monday (14 December) at the end of the 12-day Assembly, after any proposed amendments have been received.

More than 300,000 children are engaged in armed conflicts, delegates were told. Many had been lawfully recruited, others kidnapped or coerced. The proposed statement condemns the use of children in warfare, calls for an immediate moratorium on their recruitment, the demobilisation of those now serving and a United Nations protocol raising recruitment age from 15 to 18.

The draft statement especially calls on African churches to press their governments for early ratification of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which prohibits recruits under 18. At a fringe meeting during the Assembly, an audience of delegates and visitors was told that boy soldiers were being forced to shoot their parents dead to initiate them into the Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front.

Mr Samuel Musa-Jambawai, Vice-President of the Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, said: "They have what they call a graduation ceremony. At that ceremony they have to kill their own father or mother or, if their parents cannot be found, some other close relative.

"It is to remove any taboo about killing. It is to make the boys feel tough. They say: "I'm so tough! I have killed my own father! Now I can kill anyone!' It also means they must stay with the force. They can't return to their homes after what they have done.

"Then, when they are sent to the front, they are given drugs. They have cannabis and they are injected with hard drugs. It makes them abandon all restraint so they are more efficient at killing, burning and raping. When women, even old women, are captured, the boys are made to rape them. How can children who have been through this ever be assimilated back into the community?"

Mrs Rachel Brett, of the Quaker United Nations office in Geneva, also spoke about child soldiers at another meeting, which like the one dealing with Sierra Leone was part of the Padare, a three-day programme of 400 events outside the official Assembly meetings.

"With the increase in internal conflicts and the production of lightweight automatic weapons, there has been a huge increase in the number of child soldiers," she said. "It is estimated that there are 300,000 child combatants at the moment. This is a most conservative estimate.

"We do not know the total number of soldiers in the world, let alone the number of child soldiers. As well [as those currently fighting] there are many other children in government, irregular and rebel forces who could be sent to the front at any moment."

Mrs Brett's office is part of a coalition to make it illegal internationally for children to be recruited and for the minimum recruitment age to be raised to 18. She said that many children were recruited from the age of 10 upwards. The use of even younger children had been recorded.

In some areas, girls as well as boys were recruited, Mrs Brett said. The girls were at great risk, often being used for sexual services and forced to have abortions. Boys, too, were subjected to sexual abuse and both boys and girls were at risk from sexually transmitted diseases.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.