West Africa: Protect children during conflicts, UN official urges
As a result of the programme, Otunnu told African leaders at the 26th summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which ended on Friday in Dakar, Senegal, a national commission on war-affected children was set up. He added that a special court established last year would pay special attention to crimes committed against children.
Otunnu said a powerful network of civil society organisations had developed throughout Sierra Leone for the protection of children. In this they are assisted by 'The Voice of the Children', a radio station set up by and for children. Members of the UN Mission for Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, also receive training in child protection and law, he added.
On the other hand, Otunnu was worried about the plight of children in the war situations in Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia, despite efforts by UN agencies and NGOs to protect them.
He called for a concerted subregional policy geared toward peace so that children displaced within or outside their countries are no longer deprived of schooling and health care, and are no longer raped or mutilated.
However, Otunnu noted that ECOWAS had set up a service for the protection of children caught up in conflicts. The service was created in April 2002 after a series of visits to regional countries during which Otunnu had urged parties not to recruit child combatants and to refrain from attacking places frequented by civilians, such as schools and hospitals.
Otunnu urged African heads of state and parties to conflicts to return to traditional norms and values which used to prevent warriors from attacking children, women and the aged during ethnic conflicts. He also reminded the heads that, once war broke out it was the duty of states to protect children, rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into society.
More than 120,000 children are caught up in wars in Africa. Many of them are in West Africa.
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