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Press Conference by Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, 03 December 2012

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

A deal had successfully been brokered by the United Nations between Yemen’s Government and a major insurgent group in the country to stop recruiting and using child soldiers, a top children’s rights representative for the Organization told reporters at a Headquarters news conference this afternoon.

“The President’s public instruction to all security forces not to recruit children under the age of 18 is a very positive first step,” said Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. She also praised the Al Houthi armed group for pledging to work to release children from within its ranks and reintegrate them into civilian life.

Ms. Zerrougui said she had secured that arrangement during a “very busy and also very productive” visit to Yemen’s capital, Sana, and the northern city of Sa’dah, from 26 to 28 November, where she met with President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Prime Minister Mohammed Saleh Basindwa, senior military and human rights officials, civil society representatives, and child victims.

Further, she said, the Prime Minister had also agreed to implement an action plan in accordance with Security Council resolution 1612 (2005), which established a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the use of child soldiers, and the 2007 Paris Principles and Guidelines, which focused on protecting children from recruitment, and aiding those already involved in armed groups.

The visit was Ms. Zerrougui’s first field mission since assuming her post in September. “For me, it was absolutely important to go to Yemen, taking into consideration the situation there and the fact that they’re in a transitional period,” she said.

Major protests and armed clashes that had ravaged Yemen from January 2011 to February 2012 left thousands of children displaced, killed or maimed by mines and explosive devices, Ms. Zerrougui continued. Many had been unable to attend school due to security concerns. Although Yemen was a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other major international human rights treaties, implementation of children’s rights in the largely impoverished nation had been weak.

“The situation is very tense; children continue to pay a very high price in the conflict and instability of the country,” she said. To date, the Yemeni armed forces and Al Houthi, along with Ali Mohsen’s First Armoured Division and the pro-Government tribal militia, remained listed on the Secretary-General’s so-called “list of shame” of parties that recruit and use children.

Asked to comment on the United States President’s decision in late September to waive penalties for United States arms sales to Yemen under the 2008 United States Child Soldiers Protection Act, she called the waiver “an opportunity” for Yemen to take a “step in the right direction” in ending child soldier recruitment permanently.

Regarding reports of Yemeni children being smuggled into Saudi Arabia for sexual exploitation, Ms. Zerrougui said she discussed that issue during her visit with Government officials, who were working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to bring the children home and prevent future smuggling.

Responding to a question on how the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) could ensure it did not assist military units that worked with child soldiers, she said MONUSCO had a screening system for that purpose and it had explicitly told the Congolese Government it would not support an army that included child soldiers.

As to reports that opposition forces in Syria were recruiting children, Ms. Zerrougui said her Office was following that situation closely and that a United Nations system to verify such reports would be presented soon to the Security Council for its review. She planned to visit Syria soon, once it was safe to travel there, and had received an invitation from the Syrian Government to do so.

Asked to comment on laws that penalized the parents of child soldiers, she said parents had a responsibility to not involve their children in armed conflict. However, it was important to view cases within context, as oftentimes children were forced to bear arms because they were poor or under threat of attack.

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