The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday opened the door to sanctioning groups that recruit child soldiers and commit other atrocities against minors, such as sexual violence and torture.
The 15-member council adopted a presidential statement expressing its "readiness" to impose sanctions against persistent perpetrators of crimes against children in situations of armed conflict.
The council strongly condemned all violations against children and paved the way to build on a resolution adopted last year that makes sexual violence against children, and the killing and maiming of children illegal under international law.
The all-day session had the participation of more than 60 countries and one former child soldier.
Manju Gurung is 18 years old. But when she was 13, Maoist forces in her native Nepal forcibly recruited her into their ranks where she remained under bleak and difficult conditions for the next two years. She told the Security Council that at first she was trained to dig ditches and carry heavy rocks to build roads. At 14, she was taught to use guns and be a guerilla fighter. "Many of my friends had died fighting and many had become disabled while fighting. Most of us were weak. During the war, at times, we wouldn't be able to eat for an entire week. Sometimes we would survive on water and corn flour," she said.
One day in May 2007, after the peace agreement was signed, Manju summoned her courage and slipped away from the camp and her commanders. But as is the case for many former child soldiers, reintegration into her community was difficult. "In the village, everyone continued to show suspicion toward me and to talk behind my back. My parents could no longer send me to school, and I had to leave. I went to the nearest city where I worked as a house maid," she said.
Eventually, with help from the United Nations and aid groups, she rejoined her family in their village where she is continuing her education.
U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said that because of the U.N.'s intervention, the Maoist party in Nepal has released almost 3,000 children. She reported some success as well with armed groups in the Philippines and Sudan.
But the violations still outnumber the success stories. A report from the U.N. Secretary-General lists dozens of parties -- mostly rebel groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America -- that commit some of the most heinous crimes against children. The penalty for those crimes could soon be higher.