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Unicef urges demobilization and
reintegration of child soldiers||
Up to one quarter of the world's child soldiers in East
Asia and the Pacific
Bangkok, 30 October - Noting that up to one quarter of the
world's estimated 300,000 child soldiers are currently serving in
the East Asia and Pacific region, the head of the UN Children's Fund
(UNICEF) Wednesday called for new and concerted efforts to
demobilize them and assist their reintegration into society.
In launching the results of a new study on child soldiers, UNICEF
Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that the use of children as
soldiers by government and non-state armies should be recognized "as
an illegal and morally reprehensible practice that has no place in
The UNICEF study,
Wars, Child Soldiers: Voices of Children Involved in Armed
Conflict in the East Asia and Pacific Region, says that in addition
to the large number of children still serving in armed groups in the
region, there are many more former child soldiers in countries no
longer facing conflict.
Bellamy said Adult Wars, Child Soldiers and other research
carried out in recent years in East Asia "has clearly shown that
thousands of children are still being recruited - often by force -
into state- and non-state armies in the region. It is time for all
parties to recognize this and to work together with UNICEF and other
organizations that stand ready to help bring an end to this profound
abuse of children's rights."
Based on interviews with 69 current and former child combatants
from six countries (Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Myanmar, Papua
New Guinea and the Philippines), Adult Wars, Child Soldiers provides
often moving first-hand accounts of their experiences.
" The voices of these children constitute a cry for help on
behalf of all child soldiers, a cry that we cannot afford to
ignore." Bellamy said. "They provide compelling evidence on why
children must not be allowed to become combatants and why every
effort needs to be made to ensure that those still serving are
demobilized and reintegrated into society."
The study calls for the systematic demobilization of all child
soldiers; provision of support for their reintegration, with an
emphasis on access to education and vocational training; and
strengthening the capacity for provision of appropriate
psycho-social care and support for former combatants.
The children and young people interviewed for the study reported
numerous abuses, including brutal training regimens, hard labour and
severe punishments while serving in armed groups. Some said they had
been forced to witness or commit atrocities, including rape and
murder, while others spoke of seeing friends and family killed.
Nearly all of the 69 children interviewed were given weapons and
served in an armed group as combatants. Thirty of those interviewed
provided details about the type of fighting they had been involved
in, while 14 said they had fought in so many battles they could "not
remember" the exact number.
The average recruitment age of those interviewed was 13 years,
while the youngest soldier interviewed was forcibly recruited at the
age of 7. The1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) set
the legal minimum age for recruitment at 15, while an Optional
Protocol to the CRC on armed conflict outlaws the involvement of
children under age 18 in any hostilities and sets strict standards
for the recruitment for those under 18.
But in order to be legally bound by the Optional Protocol, which
entered into forcer in February 2002, countries need first to ratify
it. In East Asia and Pacific, only the Philippines and Viet Nam have
done so to date (Cambodia and Mongolia are in the process of
Bellamy said ratifying the Optional Protocol "is a crucial first
step to ending the recruitment of children for armed combat and
their use as soldiers. UNICEF appeals to every country in this
region and in the world to make ratification and implementation of
this protocol a national priority."
The study said many children reported psycho-social disturbances,
such as bad dreams and nightmares, both during their involvement
with armed groups and after their return to civilian life. In some
cases, the nightmares have recurred for years.
"I have seen several people killed in battles with Khmer Rouge
soldiers," said Visna, who was recruited when he was 12. "I remember
the terror that grabbed me from out of the jungle when I could not
see the enemy but could hear their voices. That fear sometimes
visits me when I sleep at night."
The study noted that little is currently being done in the East
Asia and Pacific region to address the psycho-social needs of such
children, even in post-conflict situations.
"Successful disarmament and demobilization programmes serve to
take the guns out of their hands, but we still be failing these
children if do not find ways to reunite them with their families and
communities and provide for their psycho-social care and recovery,"
The study also recommends:
- Ratification of the Optional Protocol on Involvement of
Children in Armed Conflict and other legal instruments relevant to
the protection of children in armed conflict
- Ensuring that national legislation is compatible with
- Providing child rights, child protection and gender training
for government military and non-state actors;
- Identifying and promoting alternative non-violent ways for
boys and girls to contribute meaningfully to the cause of their
people and communities.
- Developing prevention strategies to reduce the factors that
make children vulnerable to "voluntary" recruitment.
- Ensuring participation of children affected by armed conflict,
including child soldiers, in all research, advocacy and programme