Babes in Warland

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Amnesty International estimates that about 250,000 children under the age of 18 are currently fighting in warzones. The practice is ancient and often highly secretive, but over the past couple of decades has been seared into the international consciousness, largely through graphic, wrenching images of young children in situations no child should ever experience. Wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia have become especially infamous for their use of child soldiers. Here, a young rebel poses with his machine-gun in Kalemie, southeast Congo, on Sept. 2, 1998. 

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A young Zimbabwean soldier carries a fake gun during a parade at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on April 18 during celebrations of the 30th year of independence.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been devastated by conflict since the mid 1990s -- with much of that devastation wreaked on the lives of children, who have fought on all sides of the war during that period. UNICEF estimates that up to 30,000 children are currently at war in the DRC. Here, a child soldier from the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire patrols in Kinshasa on May 21, 1997.

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Reports emerged this year that the U.S.-backed Somali government enlisted child soldiers in their fight against rebel Islamist fighters. But the insurgents are also guilty of arming young kids themselves: Among the Islamist insurgents, up to three-quarters of the force is estimated to be children, while the number among government soldiers is guessed to be about one-quarter. Here, young Somali Islamist insurgents patrol a street in the Tarbunka area of Mogadishu on June 17, 2009, amid clashes between government forces and insurgents.

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Young rebel fighters from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy militant group patrol Sept. 15, 2002, in Voinjama, Liberia.

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A Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy rebel child soldier walks past two U.S. Marines in Monrovia, Liberia on Aug. 9, 2003.

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A child belonging to the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy takes a smoke break on Oct. 30, 1992, in Monrovia.

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A teddy-bear-backpack-toting child soldier points his gun at a photographer in Monrovia, Liberia on June 27, 2003.

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Baeni, 14, a child soldier from the Mai Mai, stands outside a school on Dec. 4, 2004, in Walikale district in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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A child soldier loyal to the government shoots off a volley of automatic weapons fire on July 23, 2003, in Monrovia.

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Even after the conflict ends, the plight of child soldiers is not over. Attempts to reintegrate them into civil society have proven difficult, and they carry with them the haunting images burned into their mind from their time at war. Here, a young militia fighter waits to hand over bullets at a U.N. disarmament point on June 29, 2006, near Ituri District in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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A Somali government soldier demonstrates to children how to use a Kalashnikov rifle in Mogadishu, on Sept. 13, 2009.

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A child soldier, loyal to then-Liberian president Charles Taylor, poses before surrendering his AK-47 machine gun for which he is to receive about 50 dollars in Monrovia on the first day of a U.N. program to disarm fighting factions, on Dec. 7, 2003.

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A Zairian Tutsi rebel child soldier takes up a hidden position in foliage on Nov. 28, 1996, near Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Young Somali Islamist fighters hold their guns during a training exercise in Mogadishu on Jan. 12, 2009.

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A young fighter from the al-Shabab militia shows a hand wound he received while battling Somali government forces in Mogadishu on July 13, 2009.

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A child soldier asks a boy to open his suitcase on April 14, 1996, at a checkpoint in Monrovia, Liberia.

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