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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

17 October 2007

Ishmael Beah, a child soldier during Sierra Leone’s civil war and now a New York Times bestselling author, joined the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Hilde Frafjord Johnson, at a press conference at United Nations Headquarters this afternoon, to urge the international community to take concrete actions to stop abuses of children in armed conflict.

Thousands of children are killed and wounded each year as a direct result of fighting while millions more suffer indirectly from malnutrition and disease, according to a new United Nations report released today by the Special Representative. The report highlights the changing and devastating impact of conflicts on children and reviews progress made since the groundbreaking 1996 study on children in armed conflict by Graça Machel.

Speaking at the press conference, Mr. Beah said, “The progress that has been made compared to the problems that persist sometimes looks as if it’s not very hopeful.” He added, “But I don’t want anyone to despair.”

Despite troubling numbers regarding the tens of millions of children displaced and out of school because of conflicts, the report notes significant advancements made in the last 10 years to protect children from war crimes, unlawful recruitment and sexual violence. Among those advancements is the adoption of new international laws and standards to prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts.

“We have created the frameworks,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy. “Now it’s time for implementation.” First-hand accounts of how young people experience the effects of war show that, while young people recognize and greatly appreciate the support of the humanitarian community, many believe their Governments do not do enough to honour or enforce the international agreements and conventions they have signed. Some of those first-hand accounts are included in the Youth Report which accompanies the Special Representative’s wider report released today.

Ms. Johnson of UNICEF said progress had been made on legal instruments, but the reality on the ground still showed the need to use them more efficiently and to have a more rigorous response. She joined the other members of the panel in calling for more effective implementation of international standards and norms to end impunity for violations against children, as well as more strategic funding, better access for children to basic services and more inclusive reintegration strategies.

She also stressed the need for the participation of children and youth in their own future, and said the international community should include voices like Mr. Beah’s in their decision-making processes. Mr. Beah, who turned his history as a child soldier into a book entitled A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, looked back on the years since the 1996 study by Graça Machel.

“I hope, come another 10 years, we won’t be having another discussion again about what to implement,” he said. Instead, he expressed hope that in 10 years “we can actually celebrate successes rather than speak more about challenges that remain”.

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For information media • not an official record

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