UN concerned about recruitment and use of child soldiers


Earlier this month about 300 child soldiers were formally released by armed groups in South Sudan according to the UN mission there. This comes hard on the heels of an announcement by the world body that over five thousand child soldiers were released last year and coincides with a world day marking child soldiers.

The sobering rider that thousands “are still being used in conflicts” by Virginia Gamba, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for children and armed conflict served to highlight Monday, February 12 as the International Day against the use of Child Soldiers.
“Children can only be freed from armed groups and forces through a comprehensive reintegration process, including medical and psycho-social support, as well as educational programmes and training,” Gamba said adding “without a strong political and financial commitment to the reintegration process, re-recruitment is unfortunately likely to happen in many conflict situations”.

According to the world body tens of thousands of boys and girls continue to be recruited, kidnapped, forced to fight or work for military groups or armed forces. The recruitment and use of children happens in 20 country situations covered by Gamba’s mandate.

Sixty-one parties to conflict out of 63 are listed for the “grave violation” of using child soldiers in the UN annual report on child soldiers.

The International Day was initiated in 2002 when the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict entered into force on February 12 that year. The protocol sets the minimum age for recruitment into armed forces in conflict at 18 and has been ratified by 167 States.

A report titled “Cradled by Conflict: Child involvement with Armed Groups in Contemporary Conflict” was produced by the UN University in collaboration with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Researchers who worked on the report suggest the majority of children do not so much “opt” into conflict as “grow” into it.

The report points out conflict structures the information they see and the choices they make.
“It pulls and pushes them in many directions. Conflict erodes their relationships. It exacerbates their needs and exposes them to untold risks. Conflict shapes their identity and heightens their need to find meaning in their lives.
“Ultimately the forces of conflict narrow paths available to children and tragically for many, leads to exploitation, violence, and trauma.
“These findings undermine the conventional wisdom that ‘violent extremism’ or ideology is predominantly responsible for driving children into armed groups.”

The report proposes five principles for more effective international efforts to prevent and respond to child recruitment and use by armed groups.

They are to avoid programmes focused primarily on ideological factors; incorporate ideological components only where individually necessary and where they can be embedded into larger, holistic efforts to address the needs and risks of children; ensure all interventions are empirically based; rigorously assess interventions over the long term; and engage children not just as beneficiaries, but as partners.