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Changing Nature of Warfare Makes Children More Vulnerable

A report from the U.N. special investigator on Children and Armed Conflict says the changing nature of warfare makes children more vulnerable to being recruited as soldiers and for terrorist activities. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

The report finds the distinction between civilians and combatants is becoming increasingly blurred because of the changing nature of warfare. It says the toll on civilian life, especially children, is growing.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, bases much of her report on field trips she took to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and the Occupied Territories.

She says children there are caught up in the battle between terrorism and counter-terrorism.

"We are finding more and more children being used in military activities, including as child suicide bombers," said Radhika Coomaraswamy. "In addition, we are having a situation where we are having large numbers of children in military detention and also as victims of collateral damage."

There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers around the world. Most in Africa, but Coomaraswamy notes the situation has improved since the long civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia ended. In addition, she says all parties to the conflict in Ivory Coast have released their child soldiers.

She says non-state, or rebel groups, are the main recruiters of child soldiers.

"We are seeing, for example, non-State actors also involved in criminal activity, as well as political activity," she said. "The blurring of lines between criminality and political activity including human trafficking, the drug trade, arms smuggling, mineral exploitation ... Secondly, we are also seeing the rise of non-State actors as paramilitary. The State sometimes using non-State actors, working closely with them. What is the problem there is that increasingly these groups recruit and use children in their activities."

Coomaraswamy says since her office was set up 10 years ago, its main focus has been to end impunity for the grave violations against children. Despite resolutions passed by the U.N. Security Council, she says 16 persistent violators continue to defy the Council.

She says three are state actors - Burma, Sudan and Uganda. She says the rest are non-state actors including the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, several Burmese rebel groups, as well as groups in Sudan and Colombia.

The report notes about 500 children are in U.S. military custody in Iraq and about 1,000 are being held by the Iraqi government. The report says 400 children are being detained by Israel.
No figures are available for Afghanistan. But, the report says four children who were used in aborted suicide attacks in Afghanistan are in detention.