Child-rights advocates and diplomats from 60 countries are meeting in Paris to discuss new ways to fight the use of children as soldiers. Lisa Bryant has more for VOA from the French capital.
According to the U.N. Childrens Fund, there are about 250,000 child soldiers around the world - recruited by armies and militias not only to fight, but also to serve as messengers, spies, porters, cooks or to provide sexual services. Some are as young as six years old.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who opened the conference on child soldiers in Paris, called the act of recruiting children a crime against humanity. He said it is time to break a vicious cycle that feeds on itself.
Child soldiers are being used by militias and armies in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal and Colombia. But a large number of children, like this young man from Burundi, Jean Claude, are recruited to fight in African wars.
In an interview with Radio France, Jean Claude talked about fighting for the government army at the age of 14. He said it was a good time. There was always enough food to eat, but now that he has been discharged people accuse him of killing people.
The two-day conference, which is jointly sponsored by UNICEF and the French government, will look for ways to prevent children from being recruited for wars and help them back into society. Experts say they will also focus on problems faced by girls, who account for 40 percent of child soldiers, and who are often victims of sexual abuse.