Strong link between child soldiers and small arms trade, UN experts say

15 July 2008

The trade in small arms is a major factor behind the worldwide phenomenon of child soldiers, according to United Nations experts who gathered today in New York to discuss the impact of the weapons trade on society.

“It is argued by many that it is the proliferation of small arms that has actually contributed to this rise – the ready availability of small arms in the period 1970 – 2000 led to the rise and the phenomenon of child soldiers as we know it today,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN envoy on children and armed conflict, said.

“For $5 one can find a serviceable weapon in most countries in the developing world,” she added, noting that it takes a child on average only 40 minutes to master an AK-47, one of the most common weapons used around the world today.

The UN envoy also stressed that there were 600 companies in 95 countries around the world producing small arms, in addition to the growing reach of private arms dealers “who sell arms to anyone and who are accountable to no one.”

Also addressing today’s meeting, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Sergio Duarte, said that if governments failed to provide for the security of their populations, people resorted to retributive justice and armed violence.

“In such surroundings, adolescents and children need special attention. As long as the security needs of the affected populations remain unanswered, the negative impact of small arms will continue to exist and will affect future generations,” he added.

Former child soldier Emmanuel Jal described how he had fought for five years in southern Sudan before escaping to Kenya, where he subsequently became an internationally-acclaimed singer and an advocate against the use of under-age combatants.

“I chose this way because my country’s at war and every time I turn on the TV I still see the same things happening,” he said.

Today’s event is part of the weeklong biennial meeting of states to review action to prevent, combat and eradicate the trade in illicit small arms and light weapons.

 

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