GENEVA — The United Nations is launching a campaign to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers by 2016. It says eight governments on a Security Council list of child recruiters have agreed to sign an "action plan" to end these violations and to prevent them from occurring in the future.
The United Nations has a list of 55 parties that recruit child soldiers. Among them are 46 non-state actors and eight governments, including those of Afghanistan, Burma, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.
The U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, is spearheading this campaign jointly with the U.N. Children’s Fund. She says the outlook is promising because nations are unanimous that using children to fight in war is unacceptable and must end.
“No government in the world is telling us, 'I have the right to recruit children to send them to fight. It is not your business.' No one is telling us this," said Zerrougui. "Out of the eight listed, six already signed the action plan with the United Nations and the two remaining are in the process of finalizing their action plan.”
Yemen and Sudan have yet to sign the agreement, but say they are committed to stop the use of child soldiers. They presently are in negotiations with the United Nations to make this happen.
The U.N. Action Plan obliges governments to ban their military from drafting and using child soldiers. It promises to release children from service and to reintegrate them into civilian life.
It also calls upon states to criminalize this practice and ensure that no child under 18 is drafted.
In the presentation of her annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Zerrougui spoke about the disproportionate and intolerable impact that conflicts around the world have on children. She noted armed conflict has intensified in several countries, most notably in Syria, South Sudan, and Central African Republic. She added that in other countries, thousands of children also are recruited, killed, maimed, raped and kidnapped.
The special representative spent four years serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She says she was deeply affected by the terrible stories boys and girls told her about how they had been abducted, recruited, indoctrinated, and used as sex slaves.
"Not only girls - girls and boys. That is what happened to them in the bush," Zerrougui said. "They serve as cooks, they serve as porters, they serve as sex slaves and they are also human shields. That is the reality…You even cannot reintegrate them in their community when they return… because you cut the link with the community and the family. It is terrible what happens to these children. That is why we have all to be united and to work and to make sure that these children will not - and never ever be recruited and those who are doing this have to pay a price."
Globally, the number of children recruited as soldiers is estimated between 250,000 and 300,000.
Zerrougui says governments are more aware of the harm done to child soldiers and of the shame attached to their recruitment. She says governments do not want to remain on the list of recruiters. They want to make sure their ranks are free of children.
And this, she says, is what gives her hope that the "Children, Not Soldiers" campaign can ultimately succeed.