The use of child soldiers around the world continued unabated over the past year, according to a report from a leading international research group. The report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers was issued just days ahead of the annual U.N. Security Council debate on children and armed conflict.
The problem of child soldiers is not going away.
A London-based spokesman for the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Casey Kelso, says this is disturbing.
"We can find child soldiers in every region of the world. In this report, we have identified 16 different countries, and a 17th country situation of the Palestine occupied territories," he said. "In 2003, as compared to the year before, has there been a continuing use of child soldiers? We do not say that there are more child soldiers used than there has been in the previous year. What we say is that, in each conflict, you can see child soldiers use is a constant."
Mr. Kelso says child soldiers can be found in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
"In Uganda, we have estimated that 10,000 children have been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army for use in one way or another associated with their rebel group," he said.
He says the abduction of children in armed struggles leaves lasting scars.
"Much of the recruitment is non-voluntary in that, if there is an abduction of a girl from a family, often the children are made to witness the killing of their own family, and in some situations, like in Liberia, children have been forced to kill their family members," he said. "So, the abuse, first of all in the recruitment, second has been sexual abuse, that often girls are abducted as sexual slaves."
The Coalition recommends that the Security Council members draw up an annual updated list of all parties that recruit or use child soldiers, and establish action plans designed to end such practices. The group also wants the United Nations to apply targeted sanctions to those parties that fail to end their use of child soldiers.