A new U.N. report identifies 23 governments and insurgent groups in five countries that recruit child soldiers to fight in armed conflicts. The report, issued Monday, is the third of its kind but the first time the United Nations has actually named the parties involved in the banned practice.
From Afghanistan to the African nations of Congo, Burundi, Liberia and Somalia, the U.N. report says children are used to fight wars, plant landmines, even forced to engage in sexual activities.
In Afghanistan, following the fall of the Taliban government, the U.N. notes there was a significant demobilization of soldiers, including child soldiers. However, recent reports indicate that armed groups in various parts of Afghanistan have resumed the recruitment of under-age boys.
In Liberia, the U.N. said renewed fighting in the country's persistent war, has led to new recruitment efforts. The U.N. report also notes that the Liberian government has yet to admit to the problems of using children as soldiers.
International law prohibits pressing children under the age of 15 into service, while several U.N. conventions actually condemn the use of anyone under 18.
Olara Otunnu, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for children and armed conflict, says this report, which has been submitted to the Security Council, signals a major step forward. "First, it indicates that the international community is becoming serious in moving to translate norms, standards, declarations, resolutions into application on the ground. And secondly, it signals the parties in conflict that the international community is watching and will hold you responsible for what you do to children in situations under your control," Mr. Otunnu said.
Mr. Otunnu said this latest report, in naming the offenders, represents the beginning of efforts to set up arrangements for monitoring and reporting activities related to child recruitment. He believes those involved in the illegal practice will start to feel pressure.
"I believe that all parties can now take up this list and work on it as an advocacy tool: key governments, regional organizations, the European Parliament, the African Union, the NGO community," he said.
The U.N. list is limited to conflicts currently on the Security Council's agenda. But the report also identifies a host of other places where the recruitment of child soldiers is considered rampant. Included are Colombia, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Burma (also known as Myanmar) and northern Uganda.
On the positive side, countries that would have been highlighted on earlier lists are not there this year. U.N. special representative Otunnu says the situation related to child soldiers has changed significantly for the better in Angola, Sierra Leone and the Balkans.