General News of Saturday, 14 February 2015
In May 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted into the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. On February 12, 2002 the protocol came into force and international ‘Red Hand Day’, recognising the plight of child soldiers, was established.
This protocol currently has signatures from over 100 different states, with a number of international organisations actively participating in projects and programmes to register their protest against the use of children as soldiers.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, children are increasingly vulnerable to recruitment and the use of children by armed groups in conflicts around the world had become more brutal, intense and widespread.
This was contained in a statement issued and copied to the Ghana News Agency to mark the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers.
According to the statement, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui said “while governments of the world have made progress to recognise that children have no place in their armies, the recruitment of child soldiers is still a huge problem, especially with armed groups”.
“Out of 59 parties to conflict identified by the Secretary-General for grave violations against children, 57 are named because they are recruiting and using child soldiers,” it added.
UNICEF and the office of the Special Representative have called for urgent action to end grave violations against children, including their recruitment and use by armed groups, and parties to conflicts must meet their obligations under International Law.
“The release of all children from armed groups must take place without delay. We cannot wait for peace to help children caught in the midst of war,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt. “Investing in ways to keep children away from the front line, including through education and economic support, is absolutely critical to their future and the future of their societies.”
The statement said tens of thousands of boys and girls are associated with armed forces and armed groups in conflicts in over 20 countries around the world. Many have been victims of, witness to and forced participants in acts of unspeakable brutality.
The statement indicated that in Afghanistan, despite progress to end the recruitment and use of children in national security forces, children continue to be recruited by parties to conflict such as the Haqqani Network and the Taliban.
In the most extreme cases, children have been used as suicide bombers to make weapons and transport explosives.
In the Central African Republic, boys and girls as young as eight years old were recruited and used by all parties to the conflict to take direct part in inter-ethnic and religious violence.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations documented new cases of recruitment of children by multiple armed groups operating in the eastern part of the country, adding that the children, in some cases as young as 10, were recruited and used as combatants, or in support functions such as porters and cooks. Girls were reportedly used as sex slaves or were victims of other forms of sexual violence.
Just recently, the gradual release of approximately 3,000 children from the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction began. More than 500 children have been released in the past two weeks and are receiving support to return to civilian life. Further releases are expected over the next month.
UNICEF works with partners to support children once they are released from armed groups. This includes reunifying them with their families and providing them with health care, basic necessities and psychological support as well as access to education and training programmes.