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West African leaders back UN envoy's calls for protecting war-affected children

West African leaders back UN envoy's calls for protecting war-affected children

Expressing "particular concern" over the violence perpetrated against children in West Africa, regional leaders have called for countries to act on a call by a United Nations envoy to protect youngsters from the deadly impact of war.

In the final communiqué adopted and issued last week in Senegal at the end of the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), leaders from that region declared their commitment to respect the "inalienable principles" contained in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

They also called on Member States to implement the agenda for action proposed by the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, which calls for the inclusion of child protection measures in ECOWAS peacekeeping activities, and the development and strengthening of a civil society network for protection and advocacy in the region.

The leaders' text also proposes to make ECOWAS a child solder-free zone with initiatives aimed at reducing the recruitment of youngsters as fighters and the strengthening of traditional African values for the protection of children.

"The most important asset for Africa is its enormous human resource and intellectual capital, especially that of its youth," Mr. Otunnu said as he pledged a partnership between the UN and ECOWAS "to ensure the protection, rights and well-being of all the children of this sub-region."

On the recommendation of Mr. Otunnu, ECOWAS established a child protection unit within its Secretariat last year.