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60 countries pledge to help end use of child soldiers

February 06, 2007

Nearly 60 countries made a commitment in Paris Tuesday to try to stop children from becoming soldiers and help young fighters return to normal life.

The 58 countries that signed the Paris Principles included 10 of 12 countries that the United Nations has said make large-scale use of child soldiers: Sudan, Uganda, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Nepal, Somalia and Sri Lanka.

The agreement carries no legal weight but is seen to send a strong moral warning against the use of child soldiers.

"For the first time, states are solemnly committing themselves to applying and respecting the principles of the struggle against the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters at the two-day Free Children from War Conference, which wrapped up Tuesday.

France's Foreign Ministry and UNICEF, the UN's children's agency, hosted the conference, which included participants from various organizations, donor countries and areas affected by conflict.

UNICEF estimates that in 2006 alone, 250,000 children under the age of 18 were involved in a dozen conflicts around the world. This includes children recruited for fighting and others used as messengers or spies or for sexual purposes.

In some areas, girls made up 40 per cent of the children recruited by parties in armed conflicts.

The delegates ended the gathering by pledging to observe the Paris Principles, a new framework of action on the issue that builds on a set of guidelines set out during a similar 1997 symposium in Cape Town.

Among other things, the Paris Principles focus on:

  • Preventing the recruitment of child soldiers.
  • Producing a sustainable reintegration method for former child soldiers.
  • Looking at the special needs of girls recruited to serve the armed forces.

The document says countries have a moral responsibility to take action against recruiters and demobilize child soldiers.

The signatories included 10 of 12 countries where children have been frequently used in armed conflicts. The other two Myanmar and the Philippines did not attend the conference.

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