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UN Estimates There are More Than 250,000 Child Soldiers Worldwide

The United Nations estimates there are more than a quarter million children worldwide who are being drawn into armed conflict as child soldiers. Internally displaced children living in camps are at special risk. From U.N. Headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns in his annual report to the Security Council that internal displacement and the recruitment of children as soldiers are closely linked. Refugee and IDP camps are prime recruiting grounds due to the concentration of vulnerable children in them.

The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, cites a study from the University of Pittsburgh in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania that found a direct correlation between security at camps and the recruitment of children.

"Their finding, studying Liberia, was that where camps were very securely guarded, the recruitment was about half as to where camps were not securely guarded," she said.

Children are not just targeted in camps. Coomaraswamy says in some parts of the world, ideological radicals are targeting schools, students and teachers.

"What we are finding in Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand where there are schools that are set up with a secular education - or shall we say education that is different to religious education - we are finding that these schools can become targets," she said. "This is of concern. How we deal with it is something we are just beginning to look at."

The report presents what it calls its "List of Shame" - the names of parties that recruit children and commit other abuses against them, such as sexual violence. The report names both rebel groups and sometimes government forces from Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Nepal, Somalia and Sudan. New to the list this year was the Central African Republic. Groups in Chad, Colombia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda also were criticized.

But there was some good news. Ivory Coast was taken off the list, and Sierra Leone and Liberia were also dropped because they had no grave violations.

The report recommends that the Security Council call upon the countries listed as violators to prepare real action plans to halt the recruitment and use of children and other abuses committed against them, including the killing and maiming of children, rape, abduction and the denial of humanitarian access to children. The secretary-general also urges the Security Council to consider targeted sanctions against parties who continue to commit these violations.