Foreign Policy: Think Again: Child SoldiersSince the US recruits at age 17, we technically employ child soldiers. Most are in Asia and the near East, not in Africa.
... Asymmetrical conflicts, however, are another story. Take suicide bombing, which child soldiers have carried out in the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Chechnya. There is little that trained soldiers can do other than guess that a nearby child is in fact a suicide bomber. In Afghanistan, a 14-year-old was responsible for the first killing of a NATO soldier -- likely just one of the estimated 8,000 child soldiers who do or have worked as part of the Taliban's forces.
Face to face with child soldiers in battle, Western military forces are often befuddled as to what to do. Should they engage, retreat, surrender, or attempt to disarm? The U.S. Army's war manual, for example, offers no guidance on rules of engagement. The British Army only recognized the problem after one of its patrols was captured by child RUF soldiers in Sierra Leone, having been hesitant to attack the under-15-year-olds. Britain later used pyrotechnics and loud explosions in that conflict to induce panic among the ill-trained youngsters, many of whom would simply run away....
Armies use child warriors because they're effective. Much more effective, you may be sure, than I would be.
The conclusion? To end the use of child soldiers, we must first end the most common forms of modern warfare.
Update: Sarah, in comments, points out that technically the US is compliant with current law as long as our child soldiers don't fight (though some have). We violate international law when we prosecute child soldiers as adult war criminals.