Ex-child Soldiers Launch UN Network to Help Kids

December 1st, 2008 - by admin

John Heilprin / Associated Press & Human Rights Watch & United Nations – 2008-12-01 00:31:18


Ex-child Soldiers Launch UN Network to Help Kids
John Heilprin / Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (November 20, 2008) — Three former child soldiers from Africa announced the launch of a new UN-backed advocacy group Thursday to help other kids escape and heal from war.

The three survivors, all in their 20’s and living in the US, say the group aims to create a global network of young people like themselves who can get rehabilitated with the help of education.

“The key was discovering I could do other things than just fight,” said Ishmael Beah, who wrote a best-selling memoir about being pressed into service in his native Sierra Leone’s civil war at age 13. “I learned to use my mind.”

Beah, who also is a UNICEF’s advocate for children affected by war, will lead the new UN-backed “knowledge-based advocacy group” against the use of child soldiers. He fought for almost three years before UNICEF rescued him.

The UN says the number of child soldiers around the world is estimated at 250,000.

Grace Akallo said becoming a child soldier taught her to “kill or be killed.” She recalled being taken into captivity for seven months as a teenager, along with 139 other girls snatched from her school, by a rebel group in northern Uganda that forced them to fight against the Uganda government.

Kon Kelei, the third former child soldier, said he was taken into a camp in southern Sudan when he was just 5 years old and told that it was school.

“An AK-47 is not meant for a kid. It’s not meant for a human being, let alone a kid,” he said. “Rehabilitation is actually what made me who I am and what I’m talking about today.”

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the top UN envoy on children and armed conflict, said the group and their stories could serve as examples of “the power of resilience.”

In February, she told the UN Security Council that 58 groups in 13 countries still recruit and use child soldiers and that children in several countries are also killed, maimed, abducted and raped and denied access to humanitarian groups.

United States: Bush Signs Law on Child Soldiers
Human Rights Watch

Measure to Prosecute Recruiters Abroad
Puts Commanders on Notice

The US is saying to the world that using child soldiers is a serious crime and that it will take action. Military commanders who use children can no longer come to the United States without the risk of ending up in jail.

NEW YORK (October 8, 2008) — Under a new law signed today by US President George W. Bush, leaders of military forces and armed groups who have recruited child soldiers may be arrested and prosecuted in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. The law could apply to leaders of dozens of forces that have recruited and used child soldiers in over 20 armed conflicts.

The Child Soldiers Accountability Act makes it a federal crime to recruit knowingly or to use soldiers under the age of 15 and permits the United States to prosecute any individual on US soil for the offense, even if the children were recruited or served as soldiers outside the United States.

The law imposes penalties of up to 20 years, or up to life in prison if their action resulted in the child’s death. It also allows the United States to deport or deny entry to individuals who have knowingly recruited children as soldiers.

“The US is saying to the world that using child soldiers is a serious crime and that it will take action,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. “Military commanders who use children can no longer come to the United States without the risk of ending up in jail.”

The legislation was introduced by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and adopted unanimously by both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate in September 2008.

In a statement issued on October 3, Senator Durbin said: “The United States must not be a safe haven for those who exploit children as soldiers. Period. The use of children as combatants is one of the most despicable human rights violations in the world today and affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls who are used as combatants, porters, human mine detectors and sex slaves. The power to prosecute and punish those who violate the law will send a clear signal that the US will in no way tolerate this abhorrent practice.”

The recruitment and use of children as soldiers was recognized in 1998 as a war crime under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. In 2007, four former military commanders from Sierra Leone were convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for recruiting and using children as soldiers. Rebel and military commanders from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have also been charged under the International Criminal Court with recruiting and using child soldiers, though none have yet gone to trial.

“This new law is a breakthrough because it no longer leaves the prosecution of child recruiters to international tribunals and the national courts of conflict-affected countries,” Becker said. “The United States is stepping up to hold these war criminals accountable in its own courts.”

Children are currently used in armed conflicts in at least 17 countries. Countries and territories in which children are known to have been used in hostilities between 2004 and 2007 include: Afghanistan, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Nepal, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda. Between 2001 and 2004, child soldiers were also used in Angola, Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Iran, and Yemen.

© Copyright 2008, Human Rights Watch

2004: UNICEF Pledges to Demobilize
5,000 Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

United Nations

NEW YORK (January 15, 2004) – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN mission to Afghanistan have set a target of demobilizing 5,000 child soldiers this year as part of their joint campaign to reintegrate war-affected youngsters in the country.

The demobilization scheme began last month in the northeast, where local committees that will help in the process formed in the Badakhshan, Baghlan, Bamiyan, Kunduz and Takhar provinces.

At a press briefing in Kabul today, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said demobilization and reintegration committees would be set up in the country’s eastern provinces by the end of this month.

The spokesman said that in Kunduz province 90 per cent of the child soldiers have already been identified and registered for the programme.

The campaign by UNICEF and UNAMA — with the support of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — is designed to help up to 10,000 children affected by armed conflict in Afghanistan. It is focused in the north, northeast, central and eastern regions of the country and includes not only child soldiers, but street children, returnees and those children who are working or who are out of school.

In a separate development, UNICEF officials said next week’s opening of a salt iodation plant in Sheberghan, in Afghanistan’s north, should reduce the incidence of iodine deficiency disorders in the region. These disorders include still births, goitre, cretinism and severe hearing problems.

Meanwhile, the cantonment of heavy weapons began today in Kabul. The process of cantonment, or effective disarmament, was enshrined in the 2001 UN-brokered Bonn agreement, which paved the way for Afghanistan’s political transition.

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