The top United Nations official fighting to eliminate the recruitment of child soldiers today appealed to governments to provide the necessary resources to ensure the reintegration of these youngsters into civil society once they have been freed.
“If they’re not reintegrated, as you know, they can easily be re-recruited or become street gangs or street children, so it is really important for the future security of the country that these reintegration programmes are successful,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, told reporters on the eve of presenting the latest report on the issue to the General Assembly.
“The great challenge that affects us and which is relevant to the General Assembly is that we have released all these children, but the issue is that we really do not have the resources and the programmes for these children to launch their reintegration, and we really urge governments to come forward and give us the resources for this.”
The report outlines some of the successes over the past year, including the release of 3,000 children from the Maoist cantonment in Nepal, an accord by the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to release 900 children by November, and an access agreement with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the main rebel groups in Darfur. The FNL rebel group in Burundi has also released all children and these have been reintegrated.
But a major challenge has been the issue of sexual violence and the need to end impunity and bring the guilty to justice. “For action to be sustainable there has to be national ownership and that’s why we strongly believe that we must work with the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to support the strategy to prevent sexual violence, to hold the perpetrators responsible and to respond to the needs of the survivors,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said.
There are persistent violators both in the recruitment of and sexual violence against children, she stressed.
She also voiced great concern at increasing attacks worldwide on schools, teachers and girl students. “We want schools to be seen as zones of peace even in conflict areas by all parties to the conflict, and we feel that the attacks on girls are particularly disturbing, and I think it is important that we work with local communities so that they take action to defend their schools and keep their children safe,” she declared. “So this is a big priority for us.”
To highlight the issue of children in conflict, the UN is later today screening ‘Children of War,’ an award-winning documentary film that tells the story of a group of former child soldiers in northern Uganda as they undergo a process of emotional and spiritual healing in a rehabilitation centre, using local culture and traditions.
It depicts their struggle to confront and break through years of abuse, extremist religious ideology and the witnessing of war crimes after they were abducted and forced to become fighters by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.
“Children of War reminds all of us of the necessity to build a moral consensus that no child should take part in hostilities and that former child soldiers must be assisted by their governments,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said.
“It is therefore crucial that Member States that are not yet part of the Optional Protocol [to the Convention on the Rights of the Child] on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict ratify this treaty that foresees the protection of children during and after war,” she added, referring to ‘Zero under 18’ campaign aimed at universal ratification of the Protocol by 12 February 2012, the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the treaty.