A viral video this year drew unprecedented attention to the crimes of the Lord's Resistance Army, a militia that has abducted children in Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic and forced them to fight. Its crime is notorious -- but not unique.
According to a new United Nations report, children are recruited and used as combatants in many countries. Click here for an interactive version of the map above, based on the U.N. report on child recruitment in conflicts around the world.
The countries the U.N. identifies on what it calls a "list of shame" include Syria, where the U.N. has reported that forces allied with President Bashar Assad have used children as human shields and there are credible allegations of rebels using children as fighters. Others on the list include Afghanistan, where armed forces such as the Taliban have reportedly used children for suicide attacks and planting explosives, and Somalia, where more than 900 children were recruited, mostly by the Shabab militia.
The Times' Robyn Dixon told the harrowing story of one of those recruits, a lonely Somali boy named Abdi who was inducted by a family friend, last year:
The man bought him meat and camel milk. Then he sent the 13-year-old to a training camp to become a suicide bomber.Abdufazil was a commander of the militant Islamist militia Shabab in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, and he told the boy that Christians had killed his parents. He and other Shabab fighters urged him to take revenge for the attack.
"I wanted to do it," said Abdi, a slight, awkward boy with large round eyes and shabby, too-small clothes.
Lying on his thin mattress in the camp in southern Somalia last year, the yearning for his parents was so deep that it hurt. He longed for someone to love and protect him.
"I used to wake up and think of my parents and remember that I was alone," said Abdi, whose surname is not being used, to protect him from possible reprisal. "That was the first thing I would think every day."
Some progress has been made: Nepal and Sri Lanka have dropped off the list after taking action to stop the recruitment of children in armed conflict. But the grim list "will always be too long," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Image: Screen grab of an interactive map created by The Times using the Zeemaps interactive mapping website. Credit: Zeemaps