Global perspective Human stories

Some 250,000 children worldwide recruited to fight in wars – UN official

Some 250,000 children worldwide recruited to fight in wars – UN official

Radhika Coomaraswamy
While precise estimates are difficult to come by, some 250,000 children globally are being recruited to fight in armed conflicts in violation of international law, a United Nations official said today, reporting mixed progress in efforts to tackle the problem.

Briefing reporters in New York on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on children and armed conflict, his Special Representative on the issue, Radhika Coomaraswamy, voiced hope that the Security Council would take decisive action in response to its findings.

Children are being recruited by groups in Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Uganda, according to the report.

But there have been no recent cases of child recruitment in Côte d’Ivoire, where the parties are taking measures to identify and release affected children for rehabilitation. Sierra Leone and Liberia, which used to have a prevalence of child soldiers, are also no longer contained in the report’s annexes, which Ms. Coomaraswamy said collectively amount to a “list of shame.”

The report draws attention to disturbing trends exacerbating the problem of child conscription, including a close link between camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the recruitment of children. “Research shows recruitment goes down if the camps have good security,” the Special Representative said.

She also voiced concern about cross-border movements with regard to child recruitment in places such as Sudan and Chad, as well as the detention of children in Burundi, Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, she called attacks on schools, buildings and teachers a “serious new phenomenon” affecting Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed legal precedents for ending impunity, including the issue of arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for five senior members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) operating in Uganda. The rebel group is notorious for recruiting and otherwise exploiting children.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said she will push for action in the Security Council, which is expected to discuss the report on children and armed conflict on 12 February. She said the Council should adopt “either a resolution or presidential statement” on the issue. Among other measures, she called for expanding the “list of shame” to include groups responsible for all manner of violations against children, or at least sexual violence.