UN slams using children as soldiers in conflicts

IANS | Mar 8, 2014, 07.28 AM IST

The UN security council Friday unanimously adopted a resolution strongly condemning the recruitment of children in armed conflicts and attacks against schools and hospitals. 

The endorsement came a day after the launch of the "Children, Not Soldiers" campaign, initiated by Leila Zerrougui, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon's special representative for children and armed conflict, and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) to end the recruitment and use of children in conflict by 2016, Xinhua reported. 

Fifteen years have passed since the UN security council adopted its first resolution specifically dedicated to protecting children from armed conflict. In Friday's resolution, the UN body made the first reference to the use of schools by armed forces. 

The military use of schools is in contravention of applicable international law, the council said. "Such use may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering children's and teachers' safety as well as children's education." 

It urged all parties to armed conflict to respect the civilian character of schools, and member states to ensure that attacks on schools are investigated and those responsible duly prosecuted. 

According to UN figures, more than 250,000 children under 18 are fighting in both government armies and armed opposition groups. Some children are kidnapped and forced to serve; others join up hoping to find food and shelter, help their families or improve their lives. 

Because of their emotional and physical immaturity, children are easy to manipulate and can be drawn into violence that they are too young to resist or understand, it said. Some have been used for suicide missions or forced to commit atrocities against their own families and neighbours. 

"Children should be armed with pens and textbooks, not guns and grenades," Ban said at an open debate on children and armed conflict during which the resolution has been endorsed. 

"All children deserve and are entitled to protection, not exploitation. They belong in school, not armies and fighting groups," he added. 

Zerrougui noted attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as the killing and maiming of children, continue unabated in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. 

Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said while the world has made real progress in recent years, more must be done. 

Verifying the ages of soldiers is an important first step, said Lake, as is birth registration. Meanwhile, efforts could be done to promote greater awareness at the community level of the need to end child recruitment, and address the specific needs of child soldiers emerging from conflict as they seek to reintegrate into society. 

"With support, investment and encouragement, we can help these young men and women rebuild their lives, transform themselves and their societies, and help their countries emerge from the shadow of conflict," he said. 

The use of children to fight wars, now a worldwide problem, is most acute in Africa and Asia. Meanwhile, industrialized countries facing personnel shortfalls have also increased efforts to attract young recruits.