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UN passes protocols against child soldiers and prostitution

Child Labour News Service

June 2, 2000

An estimated 300,000 children under the age of eighteen are currently participating in armed conflicts in more than thirty countries around the world.

New York: Over a decade after the Convention on the Rights of the Child was born, the UN has completed its child rights package. Unable to reach consensus about the sensitive issues of child soldiers and child prostitution when the Convention was first drafted, these issues had been designated as topics of optional protocols to accompany the main treaty. After years of diplomatic wrangling and mounting public pressure the UN this morning formally adopted these additional texts.

The optional protocol on children in armed conflict establishes 18 as the minimum age for participation in armed conflict, for any compulsory recruitment, and for any recruitment or use in armed conflict by armed groups. It calls on governments to raise their minimum age for voluntary recruitment, but regrettably, still allows governmental armed forces to accept voluntary recruits from the age of 16, subject to certain safeguards.

"Until now, children as young as age fifteen could be legally recruited and deployed into armed conflict," said Jo Becker, Steering Committee Chair for the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
"The adoption of this new protocol by the General Assembly signals that it is no longer acceptable to use children in war." The Coalition urged all governments to sign the new protocol at the upcoming Millennium Assembly of the UN in September, and to ratify it as soon as possible. It also called on governments to adopt a minimum age of at least eighteen for voluntary recruitment, and to stipulate this age in binding declarations made at the time of ratification.

An estimated 300,000 children under the age of eighteen are currently participating in armed conflicts in more than thirty countries around the world.

The optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography calls on state parties to prohibit these activities:

Each State party is required to ensure the full coverage of certain acts and activities under its criminal or penal law, whether the offences are committed domestically or transnationally, or on an individual or organised basis. The offences include, among other things, offering, delivering or accepting a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation, transfer of its organs for profit, or its engagement in forced labour, and producing, distributing, disseminating, or possessing child pornography.

The protocols were strongly supported by many of the UN member states. On behalf of the European Union, the representative of Portugal welcomed the adoptions and expressed hope that the protocols would become important tools for the protection of children. Sweden also expressed its support, although the Swedish representative was careful to clarify that restrictions on child pornography should not apply to an adult disguised as a child.

The optional protocols will be open for signature at the special session entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century", to be convened in New York from June 5 to 9, and also at the World Summit for Social Development in Geneva.

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