Conflicts using child soldiers drop sharply

The number of conflicts in which child soldiers were involved dropped sharply from 27 in 2004 to 17 at the end of 2007, according to a report on Tuesday by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

But despite the decline, the report said tens of thousands of children remain in the ranks of militias and other armed groups in at least 24 countries.

It also said the number of governments that use children to fight fell only slightly from 10 in 2001 to 2004 to nine in 2004 to 2007.

BUrma remained the most persistent government offender, the report said.

Burma’s armed forces, engaged in counter-insurgency operations against a range of armed ethnic groups, forcibly recruit boys under the age of 18 and contain thousands of children, some as young as 11 years old, the report said.

Children also took part in hostilities in government forces in Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen, it said. Israel’s Defence Forces used Palestinian children as human shields on several occasions and a few British under-18s were deployed to Iraq up until mid-2005, the report said.

Despite the international commitment to end child soldiering, Victoria Forbes Adam, the coalition’s director, said “existing efforts are falling short”.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Global Report documents military recruitment and use of child soldiers in 197 countries including their release and reintegration into society. It covers the period from April 2004 to October 2007 and considers anyone below the age of 18 in a government or non-government armed group a child soldier, whether or not an armed conflict exists.

According to the report, children were actively involved in conflicts between April 2004 and October 2007 in 19 countries—Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Burma, Nepal, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan,

Thailand and Uganda.

But peace agreements ended the conflicts in Indonesia’s Aceh region and in Nepal, which halted the use of child soldiers there, it said.

In another positive development, the report said tens of thousands of children were released from armies and armed groups during the three-and-a-half year period because long-running conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere ended.

The report said the vast majority of child soldiers today are in armed groups not connected to governments.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as Farc, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda are all well known for recruiting and using children over many years, it said.

Less well known are the separatist National Revolution Front-Coordinate in southern Thailand which recruits under-18s and uses them in various roles, including support of military operations, and Maoist groups in India whose child recruitment is reported to have increased since 2005, the report said.

Forbes Adams urged the international community to “make good on its pledge to end the use of children in armed conflict” by 2012, the 10th anniversary of the enactment of the international treaty on child soldiers.

“Existing strategies have not had the desired impact,” she said in a statement. “If further progress is to be made, it must be recognised that child soldiers are not only an issue for child rights specialists, but should be on the agendas of all those involved in conflict prevention and resolution, peacebuilding and development.”

The coalition was formed in 1998 by human rights and humanitarian organisations and its steering committee includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Save the Children Alliance, International Federation of the Rights of Man and Defence for Children International. - Sapa-AP

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