Annan calls for action to end 'despicable' practice of conscripting children

Annan calls for action to end 'despicable' practice of conscripting children

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, today urged action to combat the "despicable and damaging" practice of conscripting children for military service.

"If there is any lesson we can draw from the experience of the past decade, it is that the use of child soldiers is far more than a humanitarian concern; that its impact lasts far beyond the time of actual fighting; and that the scope of the problem vastly exceeds the numbers of children directly involved," Mr. Annan told a special event at UN Headquarters in New York convened - on the eve of the General Assembly's special session on children - to call attention to the plight of young people caught up in the throes of war.

"The physical and psychological effects on the children involved are long-term and devastating - ranging from loss of limbs to greater risk of infection with HIV/AIDS, from emotional damage to rejection and reprisals by their home communities," said Mr. Annan in his address to the meeting on "Reclaiming Our Children," which was organized by his Special Representative dealing with children and armed conflict, Olara Otunnu.

The Secretary-General said the event should serve to rally the international community to help address the impact of child soldiering, and to call on parties in conflicts to take responsibility for demobilizing child soldiers, rehabilitating them, and reintegrating them into society. "For far too long, the use of child soldiers has been seen as merely regrettable," he said. "We are here to ensure it is recognized as intolerable."

Warning that he was putting warring factions "on notice" that the use of child combatants would carry consequences, the Secretary-General said he would, at the request of the Security Council, be drawing up a list of parties to armed conflict that recruit or use children. "To accept the use of child soldiers in conflict is to accept the destruction of our future, one child at a time," he said. "We must reclaim them - every one of them."

Earlier, the Secretary-General and his wife, Nane Annan, replied to questions from a dozen children and a dozen youth in an event that was filmed for Nickelodeon and MTV. Mr. Annan emphasized that the voices of these young people would be heard at the upcoming special session, and that children should keep speaking up to ensure that adults keep their promises.