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NEWS STORY

Latin America Conference addresses child soldiers

 

By Research Analyst Rachel Stohl
July 15, 1999

A conference aiming to highlight the plight and use of child soldiers around the world was held in Montevideo, Uruguay from July 5-8, 1999. The conference, organized by the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in cooperation with the Inter-American Children's Institute of the Organization of America States, and hosted by the Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focused primarily on the use of child soldiers in Latin America. Participants included over 100 people from 19 countries representing Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries, non-governmental organizations, representatives of inter-governmental organizations, and governments committed to ending the use of child soldiers. Because of its opposition to the 18-year standard, the United States was not invited.

Child soldiers are used in large numbers in Latin America, but public consciousness has not yet been raised about this problem. In countries like Colombia and Peru children as young as eight have been used by rebel movements and government sponsored paramilitaries. Colombia and Peru use child soldiers to the largest extent in Latin America, although many children participate in armed forces in Paraguay and Mexico. Reintegration of child ex-combatants is also a significant problem for many post-conflict societies in Latin America, such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

At the meeting's conclusion conference participants issued the Montevideo Declaration on the Use of Child Soldiers. Beyond calling for international action on the prevention of the use of children in conflict through international mechanisms such as the United Nations and International Criminal Court, the participants also urged the countries of Latin America and the Carribean to take specific steps to stop all recruitment of children under 18 or their use in armed conflict. Included among these were promoting a culture of peace; preventing the militarization of education; launching information and sensitization campaigns to demonstrate to civil society, the armed forces, and other armed groups the negative effects on minors of participation in armed conflicts; instituting early-warning mechanisms among vulnerable parts of the population to highlight signs of recruitment of children; adopting programs of demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers, including working at the community and local levels to ensure the reunification of families and full insertion into the formal system of education; and authorizing amnesties for child soldiers.

The Declaration also requests the various bodies of the OAS, including the Permanent Council, General Assembly, and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to adopt resolutions on eradicating the use of children in armed conflict. The Declaration further calls upon the Inter-American Development Bank to give priority to programs directed toward the economic, social, and cultural rights of children and their families, and toward the societal reintegration of those children affected by armed conflict.

One highlight of the conference was the release of a World Leaders' Statement on the Use of Child Soldiers. After outlining the horrors of the use of children as soldiers, the statement, "Call[ed] upon the current leadership of all nations and armed groups to immediately stop the use of children as soldiers, and establish and respect an international prohibition on the military recruitment or participation in armed conflict of any child under the age of eighteen." The statement, which was signed by 16 former heads of states including Jimmy Carter, Oscar Arias Sanchez, the former President of Coast Rica, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former President of the Soviet Union, and Shimon Peres, the former Prime Minister of Israel, called the use of child soldiers "reprehensible" and said that "the world community should no longer tolerate this practice."

The Latin America conference was the second regional conference on child soldiers organized by the International Coalition. The first was held in Maputo, Mozambique in April. The next regional conference will be held in Berlin, Germany in October, 1999, followed by a conference in Asia in early 2000.

 

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