A humanitarian group says its work of persuading armed groups to stop the recruitment of child soldiers is making slow, but steady progress. The group, known as Geneva Call, reports it received pledges by two rebel groups to end this practice during a recent three-day training workshop, which taught respect for international law.
This unlikely gathering brought together 31 leaders, commanders, and advisers of 21 armed movements from 11 countries. Participants came from some of the world's worst conflict zones — Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Representatives from the United Nations and specialized agencies also were present. The workshops focused on the need to better protect and educate children and the respect for international law.
Geneva Call Policy Director Pascal Bongard says his organization plays a complementary role with the United Nations and was involved in getting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North to agree to end child recruitment.
FILE - Boys with their rifles sit at a ceremony of the child soldiers disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in Pibor, Jonglei State, South Sudan, oversawn by UNICEF and partners, Feb. 10, 2015.
During the meeting, he told VOA, a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo also signed a commitment to work toward this goal.
He says his organization can deal with certain armed groups, such as Turkey’s Kurdish PKK, with whom the United Nations cannot engage.
“But, also some movements that are listed, the United Nations cannot engage because they have restrictions from the government," Bongard said. "So, we have more flexibility. We are not a U.N. organization, so somehow it provides less high profile and we have more flexibility of capacity to access some of these movements.”
The United Nations lists 51 armed groups as having committed grave violations against children. Bongard says getting off this so-called list of shame acts is an incentive to some armed groups to end their use of child soldiers.
He says Geneva Call works with these groups to help them implement the agreement they have signed, and in demobilizing and integrating the child soldiers into their home communities.