UNICEF calls for demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers
With up to one quarter of the world’s estimated 300,000 child soldiers serving in the East Asia and Pacific region, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today in Bangkok called for new and concerted efforts to demobilize and assist young conscripts.
Launching a new study on child soldiers, entitled Adult Wars, Child Soldiers: Voices of Children Involved in Armed Conflict in the East Asia and Pacific Region, UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said that the use of young people by government and non-State armies should be recognized as “an illegal and morally reprehensible practice that has no place in civilized societies.”
Ms. Bellamy said the study clearly shows that thousands of children are still being recruited – often by force – into State and paramilitary forces in the region. “It is time for all parties to recognize this and to work together with UNICEF and other organizations that stand ready to help bring an end to this profound abuse of children's rights,” she said.
Based on interviews with 69 current and former child combatants from Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, the study provides often moving first-hand accounts of their experiences.
The children and young people interviewed reported numerous abuses, including brutal training regimens, hard labour and severe punishments while serving in armed groups. Some said they had been forced to witness or commit atrocities, including rape and murder, while others spoke of seeing friends and family killed.
Nearly all of the 69 children interviewed were given weapons and served in an armed group as combatants. Thirty of those interviewed provided details about the type of fighting they had been involved in, while 14 said they had fought in so many battles they could “not remember” the exact number.
“The voices of these children constitute a cry for help on behalf of all child soldiers, a cry that we cannot afford to ignore.” Ms. Bellamy said. “They provide compelling evidence on why children must not be allowed to become combatants and why every effort needs to be made to ensure that those still serving are demobilized and reintegrated into society.”
The study calls for the systematic demobilization of all child soldiers, provision of support for their reintegration, and efforts to provide appropriate psycho-social care for them.