23 July 2003
UNICEF asks for true commitment by UK government to end use of child soldiers: lifting the UK's declaration to the UN Optional Protocol The UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibiting the use of children in armed conflict -- coming into force in the UK on 24 July 2003 -- is a positive step towards ending the use of child soldiers, but is not enough, UNICEF said today. The organisation is still waiting for the UK government to show unequivocal commitment by lifting the UK's declaration retaining the right to send children to the frontline under certain circumstances, the organisation said today.
"We welcome this announcement since it is an important step towards UNICEF's goal to ban the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers globally. On the other hand, we are saddened at the UK Government's failure to show unequivocal commitment to end the use of children as armed combatants," said David Bull, Executive Director at UNICEF UK.
On signing the Optional Protocol in September 2001, the UK government submitted a declaration reserving the right to deploy children under certain circumstances. This means that UK military forces can continue to send minors to conflict areas, including using them as peace keepers, etc. The UN recommends that peace keeping personnel should be at least 18, but preferably 21 years old.
"UNICEF is encouraging governments all over the world to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol without any reservations, aiming for a world free from child soldiers. The UK has so far missed the opportunity to set an example for countries where human rights standards are comparatively low, and remains the only country in Europe to use children in wars," continued Bull.
The recruitment and participation in military activities of under 18's can jeopardise their mental and physical integrity and make it impossible for them to achieve their full potential.
"Decisions on the recruitment of children should not be based on military interests. By keeping its declaration on the UN treaty, the UK government is considerably weakening the protection of children from armed conflict," stressed David Bull.
"The UK Government should remove this declaration without delay. Otherwise, the door is still open to the recruitment and deployment of under-18s in the UK, in contravention of the Optional Protocol, which is to ensure the protection of all children from involvement in armed conflict."
The UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
includes the following key provisions:
It requires government measures to demobilise and rehabilitate former child soldiers and reintegrate them into society.
It is estimated that 6,000-7,000 under 18's are currently serving in the UK armed forces. Over 300,000 children are involved in military activity and armed conflicts throughout the world at any given time.
(c) 1999- The Children and Armed Conflict Unit