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Report: Many Internally Displaced Children Recruited as Soldiers

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A new report finds internally displaced children are at high risk of being recruited as child soldiers.  The report, prepared for the U.N. Human Rights Council, describes the abuses and injustices experienced by hundreds of thousands of children caught in armed conflict.

The United Nations estimates there are about 250,000 child soldiers around the world, and millions more that are victims of armed conflict.

Challenges outweigh positives

Despite this hapless situation, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict reports on a number of positive developments during the past year.  Radhika Coomaraswamy said the United Nations has reached agreement with rebel groups in Nepal, Sudan and Burundi for the release of thousands of child soldiers.

She agreed, however, the challenges far outweigh these moments of progress.

"The recent incidents of mass rape in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) are mind boggling.  So far, it is estimated that as many as 500 women and children have been sexually assaulted, one as young as seven-years old,"  said Coomaraswamy.

Trying children for war crimes

But she noted that not all crimes against children take place in the developing world.  Coomaraswamy criticized the United States for trying a young terrorist suspect Omar Khadr, before the U.S. Military Commission in Guantanamo Bay.  Khadr was 15 years old when he was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier.  Coomaraswamy said Khadr is the first person to be tried before the Commission on charges of war crimes.

"The international community has, without exception, refused to try children for war crimes," said Coomaraswamy.  "All international prosecutors have used their discretion to ensure rehabilitation rather than prosecution for war crimes, which they may have committed as child soldiers; recruited by adults to fight causes they barely understand ...  trying Omar Khadr for war crimes will set a precedent that may endanger the status of child soldiers all over the world."  

Special needs of internally displaced children

In her report to the U.N. Council, Coomaraswamy highlights the special needs and concerns of internally displaced children all over the world.

"There is no child more vulnerable in the world today than a child internally displaced by armed conflict, forced to leave home and community behind.  Children who have been internally displaced are also at high risk for becoming victims of grave violations.  Research has shown that the largest number of children recruited to be child soldiers is often from internally displaced camps," said Coomaraswamy.

Child-rights expert Coomaraswamy is urging all countries to ratify an Optional Protocol on Children In Armed Conflict.  She said universal ratification will ensure the prohibition against child soldiers becomes an international norm.


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