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Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Angola

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Angola, 2001, available at: [accessed 27 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 12,479,000
    – under-18s: 6,749,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 107,500
    – paramilitary: 10,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 17
  • Voluntary recruitment age: unknown
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated – some 7,000 in government and opposition armed groups
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: ACRWC; CRC; GC/API; ICC
  • Children have been recruited and used as soldiers throughout the Angolan conflict by all forces involved. In 1998 the UN reported that "Between 1980 and 1988, in Angola, every third child has been involved in military operations and many have fired a gun at another human being."62 The demobilisation of some 8,500 registered child soldiers in accordance with the 1994 peace agreement has progressed slowly, with more than half that number deserting the quartering areas and only 2,925 children demobilised to date. It is estimated that with the resumption of armed conflict since 1998 some 7,000 child soldiers are currently participating in the conflict, with forcible recruitment of children increasing during 2000.


The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has governed Angola since its independence from Portugal in 1975 but faced internal conflict with competing political movements, in particular the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), despite various peace agreements over the years.63 A 7,200-strong UN peacekeeping force (MONUA) was established in April 1997 but ended in January 1999 following the shooting down of UN-chartered aircraft. Conflict has continued throughout the country, but in November 2000 the government offered an amnesty to UNITA fighters. The UN Security Council has sought to enforce sanctions against UNITA.64

Both Namibia and Zimbabwe have reportedly sent troops backing the Angolan armed forces.65 The Zambian government, has denied allegations of support to UNITA.66 Angola has also sent troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to support President Kabila.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Article 152 of Angola's 1992 Constitution67 stipulates that "The defence of the country shall be the right and the highest indeclinable duty of every citizen." Law 1/93 made military service compulsory for all men between age 20 and 45. Women between the ages of 20 and 45 could also be called up, but were not actually recruited.68 In November 1998 the Council of Ministers approved the compulsory conscription of Angolans born in 1981, thus lowering the minimum age for conscription to 17 years.69

One factor complicating military registration is the very low rate of birth registrations in Angola. Only about five per cent of children have their birth registered.70 The 1996 Decree of application on military service (Decree No. 40/96 of 13 December 1996) established a minimum age of 18 for the voluntary recruitment of men and age 20 for women.71

Child Recruitment

The UN estimates that at least 3,000 children are among the ranks of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA).72 Forced recruitment of youth ('Rusgas'), some as young as 14, continued after the 1993 law on military service. The legalisation of the conscription of 17-year-olds in 1999 further increased the recruitment of minors. Young men were reportedly gathered near Luanda Airport to register after the Minister of Defence launched a military census of male Angolans born between 1 January 1979 and 31 December 1981.73 As the recruitment drive failed to reach its quota, government forces increasingly resorted to "press-ganging" youths, often in nocturnal round-ups. Soldiers and police rounded up men and boys – reportedly including many under the age of 18 – who were sent to military bases throughout the country.74 However, some very young children initially recruited were reportedly "thrown back" by receiving military commanders and desertion rates for these children were high – although their fate remains unclear.75

The US State Department reported in 2001 that since the first official demobilisation of child soldiers in 1997 "the government has not brought significant numbers of children back into the armed forces", but that "some children have been caught up in forced recruitment campaigns". In 2000, recruitment of children occurred throughout the country, particularly rural areas and in some suburbs of Luanda, often targeting poor communities, unemployed young men, and internally displaced persons. Military commanders have been known to pay police officers to find new recruits, while authorities have accepted payment in return for draft exemption. The government denied that forced recruitment was taking place.76

Additionally, government forces have been accused of recruiting Angolan refugees in Namibia as well as Namibian youths. Angolans arrested by the Namibian government and handed over to Angolan authorities were reportedly subject to human rights abuses including forced recruitment.77 Angolan government forces were also charged with recruiting large numbers of Namibian children some as young as 14 or 15 including girls. The children, who often have not finished their education, are promised high pay. The National Society for Human Rights reported in January 2000 that this recruitment of Namibian mercenaries had been occurring for five years. The main recruitment centre for the Angolan forces is located in Calais, in easy proximity to the Namibian border. Preliminary training is allegedly conducted on Namibian soil at the Elizabeth Nepembe Military Base.78 The Namibian government has denied these accusations.


Child Recruitment and Deployment

  • Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)

The Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) is the most prominent armed group fighting the MPLD government. Article 61-2 of the Draft Constitution of UNITA, 1990, states that "military service is compulsory for every Angolan citizen who is over 18." (unofficial translation). However, UNITA is well known to recruit children under 18, sometimes forcibly and to target children for brutal attacks, forced recruitment and sexual slavery.

The United Nations Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UNICEF, Amnesty International and the US Department of State have all reported the continued recruitment of children by UNITA forces since 1998. Despite demobilisation processes which began in 1996 it is estimated that there are at least 3,000 child soldiers in UNITA forces (c. 20,000).79 By 2000, the resurgence of conflict appeared to have been accompanied by an increase in the forcible recruitment of children.80

In 1998, the Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development and Human Rights Watch accused UNITA of abducting Angolan children and young men and women between 13 and their early 30s living in border towns of Cazombo and Lumbala Nguimbo.81 In 1999, there were reports of children between the ages of 12 and 18 being abducted, for example in a case involving some 80 children in Mbanza Congo in January and February.82

HRW reported that in 2000 "Conscription of children continued to be commonplace with boys and girls as young as ten seized and trained as soldiers by the rebels." According to the US State Department, UNITA continued to forcibly recruit or even abduct children throughout the country's disputed territory. Recruits were taken to isolated military camps for military service and forced labour and subjected to psychological stress and extreme hardships; those who attempted to desert were executed. Women, many as young as 13 years old, were forcibly recruited to serve as porters and camp followers, and reports of sexual assault were widespread and credible. Females were also abducted for use as sex slaves.83 Additionally, in January 2000 there were reports of UNITA forces recruiting Namibian children.84

In November 2000, the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons reported that kidnapping and trading of children, as well as forced conscription of children and adults as porters by UNITA forces were causing displacement.85 Angolan refugees in Zambia were also at risk. The UN Monitoring Mechanism reported to the UN Security Council that in the Nangweshi refugee camp, where some 13,000 Angolans reside, there is a "risk of forced recruitment of minors and ... likelihood that the camp is also being used as a safe haven for UNITA soldiers". The UN High Commissioner for Refugees accordingly planned to move the camp away from the Angolan border.86

  • The Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave (FLEC)

This opposition group (estimated strength 600) split into many factions which currently operate within the Cabinda enclave: the FLEC-FAC (FLEC-Cabindan Armed Forces) and the FLEC-Renovada.87 FLEC-FAC has also been accused of recruiting children, some as young as eight years old and some 30-40 per cent girls. A similar situation is believed to exist in the breakaway FLEC-Renovada.88

  • The Democratic Consciousness: Platform for Renaissance and Plural Understanding

This group formed from a split within UNITA in August 1998. About 4,000 UNITA soldiers from the breakaway faction deserted and surrendered their weapons to the Angolan authorities.89



A total of 8,500 child soldiers from government and opposition forces have been registered for demobilisation since 1996.90 This figure greatly underestimates the scale of the problem since many soldiers recruited as children had reached age 18 by the time of registration. Additionally, in March 2000 the UN Security Council noted that disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes in Angola inadvertently excluded some children, particularly girls, by making the surrender of weapons the criterion for eligibility in the programmes.91

The demobilisation of children has been facilitated by UNICEF and the Christian Children's Fund (CCF), which operate a "Reintegration of Underage Soldiers" programme in Angola. The programme locates relatives, arranges transportation and reunites child soldiers with their families. They also work to identify appropriate school and job training opportunities, and prepare local communities to accept former child soldiers. Most community-based work is conducted by "Catequistas", trained local church people who provide psychosocial assistance appropriate to local beliefs and practices. To date the programme has reported that 83 per cent of 2,925 child soldiers in UNITA controlled areas have been demobilised and returned home.92

Studies of indigenous healing of war-affected children in Angola have found that the involvement of traditional healers and customs often provide crucial methods of reintegrating child soldiers back into their communities. Researchers observed that traditional healing consists "principally of purification or cleansing rituals, attended by family members and the broader community, during which a child is purged and purified of the 'contamination' of war and death, as well as of sin, guilt, and avenging spirits of those killed by a child soldier". For example in one village the child must enter a small hut bringing with him the clothes and objects used during the war; the hut is set on fire and the child is helped out by a relative, while the material remainders from the war are left to burn. Researchers have observed such methods to be effective psychosocial therapies, at least in the short-term.93

62 Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director, UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Opening address to the Conference on Establishing the Rule of Law in Post-conflict Situations, Vienna, Austria, 26/6/98.

63 IISS op cit; HRW Report 2001.

64 Angolan Peace Monitor, Issue No.5, Vol.VII, 31/1/01.

65 Belida, A., "Angola", Voice of America, 21/12/98.

66 Belida, A., "Angola/Zambia", Voice of America, 8/2/99.

67 Text available at:

68 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

69 Angola Peace Monitor, No. 3, Vol. V, 27/11/98.

70 UNICEF Humanitarian Appeal for Children and Women, January-December 2001, Angola.

71 Other sources have claimed the minimum age for voluntary recruitment is in fact 15 years.

72 RB, ChildWar database, 2001.

73 "Military Census starts in Angola", Panafrican News Agency, 18/1/99.

74 AI Report 2000.

75 CSC Angola Report 1999.

76 US Department of State, Angola Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2000. Washington D.C., 2001.

77 National Society for Human Rights, Urgent Action Appeal, "The fate of deported Angolans", 20 February 2000.

78 AI Urgent Action Appeal, "Child Soldiers on Angola/Namibia Border", 3/00; National Society for Human Rights, "Child soldiers and mercenaries in cross border conflict", 6/1/00.

79 RB ChildWar database, 2001.

80 HRW Report 2001.

81 Mulenga, M., "UNITA accused of abducting Angolan youths for war", Panafrican News Agency, 30/7/98. RB Children of War Newsletter, No. 3, 10/99.

82 AI, op. cit.

83 US State Department op. cit.

84 RB Children of War Newsletter, No 1/00, 3/00, Africa News, 2/200.

85 ANN/IRIN, "Angola: visit uncovers problems and prospects for IDP's", 9/11/00.

86 Angola Peace Monitor, "Fears that refugee camps harbouring UNITA", Issue No.5, Vol.VII, 31/1/01.

87 Both number about 1,500-2,000. Balencie and de la Grange op. cit.

88 Africa Confidential, 11/4/97; figures on girls according to freelance journalist Peter Stranberg.

89 Kayaya, M., "4,000 UNITA soldiers lay down arms", Panafrican News Agency, 21/11/98. This grouping is apparently led by Eugeno Manuvakola. See Angola Peace Monitor, No. 3, Vol. V, 27/11/98.

90 Legrande Jean Claude, "Programme lessons learned for the prevention of recruitment, demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers based on UNICEF experience in seven African countries", UNICEF 5/98; Wessels M", Child soldiering: Challenges to security and democracy, Paper presented at the Secretary's Open Forum, US Department of State, 4 December 1998.

91 UN Security Council, Press Release SC/6830, 23 March 2000.

92 Wessells M., Child soldiering as child labour, Christian Children's Fund.

93 Edward Green, and Honwana A., "Indigenous healing of war-affected Children in Africa". Indigenous Knowledge series, No.10, 7/99, World Bank, Knowledge and Learning Centre, Africa Region.

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