Thousands of Child Soldiers Serving in Chad Military, Report Says

Chad is keeping thousands of children in its military ranks despite a commitment made two months ago to release them, an international human rights group said in a report Monday.

It is difficult to give the exact number of child soldiers within the ranks of the Chadian army or among a former rebel group because many of the recruits are from rural areas where birth certificates are rarely issued and some of those interviewed have lied about their age, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report titled, "Early to War: Child Soldiers in the Chad Conflict."

The government made the commitment to release the child soldiers in May but to date has not followed through on it, said Human Rights Watch, adding that a former rebel group now allied to the government has also not released all the children recruited into its ranks.

Both are violating international law that prohibits and criminalizes the use or recruitment of children under 15-years of age in armed conflict, the group said.

The U.N. Security Council, "should demand that the Chadian government and its allied forces end child recruitment and release children from their ranks," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

Chadian government spokesman Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor declined to comment on the report, saying he had not seen it.

The report cited senior officers and child soldiers who said both the government and rebel forces recruited children to serve them as fighters, guards, cooks and lookouts in 2006 when violence was raging in northern and eastern Chad.

A committee of the U.N. Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the use of child soldiers and other human rights abuses against children in Chad's armed conflict.

All 413 children discharged from military since May are former rebel fighters who had been integrated into government forces and not those recruited directly into the national army, Human Rights Watch said. Some of them are as young as eight years old.

"The Chadian government needs to release children from all corners of the military, not just the ranks of its former enemies," said Takirambudde.

The report is based on field work that Human Rights Watch researchers conducted on four missions since 2006 and during which they observed the army, former rebel forces, village self-defense forces and two Sudanese rebel movements use child soldiers. Each of these groups has forces deployed along the border between Chad and Sudan, it said.

The former rebel United Front for Democratic Change signed a peace deal with the government in December and some of its former fighters are now being integrated into the national army.

Before signing the deal, the former rebel group fought an insurgency in eastern Chad since 2005 and launched a failed assault on the Chadian capital, N'djamena, in April 2006. The violence in eastern Chad has followed repeated warnings that the conflict in the neighboring Darfur region of western Sudan could spill over and engulf the region where Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic meet.

The governments of Chad and Sudan trade accusations that each is supporting the other's rebels -- each side denies the charges.