International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

PRESS RELEASE

Asia-Pacific conference: Don't arm those who use children as war weapons

 

KATHMANDU, May 18, 2000: Asia's first-ever conference on the use of child soldiers ended today with an urgent appeal to armed groups and government forces in the Asia-Pacific region to stop using children as weapons of war.

Government representatives and NGOs from nearly 20 countries asked states within and beyond the region to deny arms, military equipment, training or personnel to states and armed groups that allow children under the age of 18 to take part in hostilities.

They called for measures to restrict the supply of small arms, including lightweight weapons, which most children can handle with ease, to areas where children are involved in conflict. This should include the sanctioning of suppliers, they said.

Condemning the use of children as soldiers by armed groups, the Kathmandu Declaration urged these groups to end the recruitment of children and release into safety children who are already being used as soldiers.

But it also called upon states to ratify the new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibiting the involvement of children under 18 in armed conflict - which the UN General Assembly is shortly expected to adopt -- and to implement it in national laws. It also asked them to ratify ILO convention 182 which defines the use of child soldiers as amongst the worst forms of child labour.

The conference asked governments to make birth registration compulsory, and, in the absence of age documentation, make sworn affidavits from parents or community elders a precondition for recruitment. In many countries of the region, underage children are being recruited in the absence of such documentation.

It also called for child protection to be made an essential part of military training.

Stressing that poor quality or militarised education helps to turn children into soldiers, delegates called upon states to prevent the spread of xenophobia, jingoism, sectarianism and ethnic stereotyping through national education systems and to ensure that "schools do not become sites for child recruitment".

The conference also warned against the dangers of transnational recruitment of children from ethnic diasporas into the region's conflicts.

The Kathmandu declaration asked local, regional and international media to report armed conflicts "without recourse to the sensationalism of violence" and to bear in mind the need to "protect individual children from stigmatisation and to preserve their dignity, safety and self-respect".

Recognising that poor and socially deprived children are the ones most likely to become soldiers, delegates also called upon UNICEF, the United Nations system and international financial institutions to help provide alternative resources to children, especially in marginalised areas.

Recognising, too, that Asia's refugee children are particularly vulnerable, the conference called upon states to enact laws protecting refugees, and allow UN agencies and NGOs access to refugees and displaced populations.

The four-day conference, attended by delegates from Australia, Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and about a dozen other countries from the region, was organised by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and hosted by the Nepal government, with support from UNICEF.

Delegates included NGOs and, in some cases, officials from conflict-ridden regions such as Aceh in Indonesia, north-east India, Jammu and Kashmir and north-east Sri Lanka. The conference produced a major research survey assessing the overall use of child soldiers in the region.

In a message to the conference from UN Headquarters in New York, Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, stressed the meeting was being held at a "critical juncture" and would help propel concerted action on behalf of children.

He pointed out that although the world's attention has largely been turned towards Africa, children are caught up in armed conflicts in many parts of Asia as well, such as Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

UNICEF's Executive Director Carol Bellamy expressed strong support for this regional initiative for a global ban on the recruitment and use of under-18s by national armies and armed groups. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson also lent support to the campaign.

Speaking at the end of the conference in Kathmandu, Jo Becker, chair of the steering committee of the Coalition, pointed out that the plight of child soldiers in Asia has failed to receive the attention it deserves, from governments, NGOs and the media in the region, even though tens of thousands of children, some as young as 10, are being used as cannon-fodder by armies, militias and armed groups. "The biggest achievement of this conference is that it has created a regional network on this issue that will now work to reverse this neglect, " she said.

For a copy of the Kathmandu declaration or to arrange interviews, please call Rory Mungoven in Kathmandu on +977 98102 5393, until the evening of Sunday, May 21,and after that, on +44 780 877 1379 (UK mobile). You may also contact Kathryn Burgess in London at +44 207 2740230 or e-mail us at childsoldiers@dial.pipex.com