Working Paper 05-1
There are more than 300,000 child soldiers under the age of 18 serving in state and non-state armed forces engaged in as many as 33 contemporary conflicts around the world. Technological advances in weaponry and the proliferation of small arms have contributed to the increased use of child soldiers: lightweight automatic weapons are simple to operate, often easily accessible and can be used by children as easily as adults.
The ascendance of child soldiers in conflicts is one of many terrible social consequences of the international small arms trade. Yet, it would almost appear that the availability of small arms and excessive oversupply is government policy. Legal transfers comprise an overwhelming 80 to 90 per cent of the total annual value of all small arms transfers.
International public outcry against the child soldier is evidence of a collective collapse in the perceived legitimacy of state and corporate impunity in arms trading, and of an acknowledgement of the gross, even obscene, disproportion between the economic value of arms trading and its costs to society and collective security. In spite of acute international concern, the small arms trade remains vastly state-sanctioned and -supported.
This paper is one of three that has been commissioned by the Small Arms Working Group of the Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee (CPCC) to add to informed discussion and debate about small arms and to strengthen Canada’s small arms policy so that both government and civil society can contribute more effectively to the UN process on this issue.
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