German gun manufacturers are selling large numbers of light arms to countries where children are recruited as soldiers, deliberately killed or sexually abused, a report co-authored by Terre des Hommes Germany has found.

Despite the high risk of these weapons being used to commit atrocities against children and even by children – most arms deals are still being legally approved by German authorities.

Some manufacturers, such as Heckler & Koch (H&K) and Sig Sauer, funnel weapons through their subsidiary companies in the United Kingdom or United States if sales are not legally approved in Germany.

The report shows that in 1969 and 2008, the German government allowed H&K manufacturing licenses for assault rifles to be sold to Saudi Arabia. In May 2015, Germany admitted that Saudi Arabia had supplied H&K rifles to militias fighting in Yemen. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had been able to verify that more than 1,400 children were recruited during the Yemeni conflict, adding that the actual number probably higher.

German-made guns have also been exported to Colombia, Syria, Iraq and the Philippines – despite children being forcibly recruited as soldiers within these countries.

Germany is one of the largest arms exporters in the world, sometimes listed second only to the United States for the amount of small arms it exports each year. Since 2002, the country has licensed the export of more than €800 million worth of small arms.

It is imperative that current German arms export laws controlling this market are fundamentally overhauled. The use of child soldiers and other grave violations of children’s rights should be explicitly listed as denial criteria for arms export licenses, and the cooperation of the German Armed Forces with any armed forces that recruit children or commit systematic and grave violations of children’s rights must be categorically ruled out.

Germany produces a massive amount of weapons and ammunition every year. Only by introducing these legal safeguards will the German government be truly acting to ensure that children don’t end up on the receiving end of the violence these weapons unleash, or even pulling the trigger themselves.