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Bumping up the plight of children caught in war

The story below about child soldiers just came in this morning from IRIN. The media and activists who care about this issue need to figure out a way to get the plight of child soldiers into the international consciousness to a degree that promotes real action. This story will probably get picked up in numerous publications around the world, yet I sadly predict it won’t make much of a dent. Educating people about a problem is only one, and an early one at that, stage of getting them to take action. They need to feel a mastery of the topic and be shown how their action can make a genuine difference. Child soldiering needs that kind of sustained attention and more.  Here’s the IRIN story:
 

New threats to children in conflict need new responses, UN says

DAKAR, 18 June 2009 (IRIN) - The changing nature of conflict, including the use of children in terrorist activity, poses new threats to children and international actors must do more to respond, says a 16 June report by the Office of the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

Children are increasingly being used as suicide bombers, being recruited into terrorist networks and being detained in relation to these activities, Coomaraswamy told IRIN.

“Armed conflicts today often feature small, ill-trained and lightly armed groups; benefit from the proliferation of small arms; can be fueled and prolonged through exploitation of natural resources and economic motivations; and often involve shifting landscapes of transnational organized crime or forms of terrorism,” says a 16 June communiqué accompanying the report.

“Civilians, especially children, are increasingly targeted and bear the brunt of consequences,” according to the communiqué.
 
The study is a follow-up to the groundbreaking 1996 Graça Machel report, which focused international attention on how conflict affects children.

Other threats on the increase are direct attacks on girls’ schools and female teachers, Coomaraswamy told IRIN.

“Actors in conflict must abide by international humanitarian and human rights laws, and must take special measures to protect children,” she said. “And children who are detained for their involvement in conflict must not be tried for war crimes, but be put through alternative [judicial] processes.”

Governments, international agencies and non-state actors have made some progress in the past 13 years, Coomaraswamy noted. They are now more aware of protection concerns for children in conflict, such as the recruitment of child soldiers, sexual violence and exploitation, forced displacement, killing and maiming, separation from families, child trafficking and illegal detention, the report says.

Legal frameworks have also been passed to protect children’s rights: the UN General Assembly passed the Optional Protocol for the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2000 and the UN Security Council in 2005 passed Resolution 1612 for monitoring and reporting child rights violations during armed conflict. International Criminal Court, national courts and international tribunals are increasingly addressing child protection in conflict.

But awareness, better mechanisms and legal tools do not necessarily translate into change on the ground, said Coomaraswamy.

“We have created international and national frameworks to protect children’s rights - now we need to implement them.”

Governments and child protection organizations should also place more focus on the often-overlooked ways that conflict ruins children’s lives, such as blocking them from attending school or eating nutritious food or accessing basic healthcare, she added.

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