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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
07 February 2007

AFRICA: Fighting for children

PARIS, 7 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - African nations participating in an international conference on child soldiers have pledged to do their utmost to prevent children from being used as fighters, although the commitment is not legally binding.

The ‘Free Children from War’ conference, which ended in Paris on Tuesday, was hosted by France and the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF). It included delegates from nearly 60 nations, other UN agencies and 30 nongovernmental organisations.

African nations that signed the ‘Paris Commitments’ included Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone. For the first time, donor countries, NGOs and nations that use or have recruited child soldiers united to address the issue.

To help end the use of child soldiers, the signatories vowed “to spare no effort to put an end to the illegal use and recruitment of children by groups or armed forces”.

Observers said the action was an important moral step toward stopping the use of child soldiers in African countries as well as those in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

An estimated 250,000 children - some as young as seven years old - are fighting in conflicts worldwide, according to the French Foreign Ministry. Another 95,000 have recently been demobilised and reintegrated into their communities.

“Today it is our responsibility and in our common interest to break this vicious circle, which continues to feed in almost indifference the enlistment [of child soldiers] and the spread of conflicts,” said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.

The conference devoted special attention to young girls, who make up 40 percent of the ranks of armed groups in some cases. Human rights groups say girls are often used as domestic servants and sex slaves during conflict and that their needs following demobilisation require further attention.

The Paris Commitments include detailed guidelines for protecting children from recruitment and for providing assistance to those already involved with armed groups. The new measures aim to complement political and legal mechanisms already in place at the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court and other organisations involved in trying to protect children from exploitation and violence, UNICEF said.

Save the Children UK said in a report last week that 10 years after international guidelines were established to stop the recruitment and use of child soldiers, fighters under the age of 18 were still actively being recruited in at least 13 countries. They included Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Sudan and Uganda.

The Cape Town Principles established in 1997 included guidelines to eradicate the use of child soldiers and protect those released.

“Hundreds of thousands of children are still living in misery due to association with armed groups and forces,” Save the Children said. “Child soldiers are subjected to brutal intimidation, often forced to commit atrocities as military ‘training’, and then used on the frontline."



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