LONDON - Governments are undermining progress in ending the use of children as soldiers, said a coalition of the world's leading human rights and humanitarian organizations in a newly published report.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers today released the most comprehensive global survey of child soldiers to date. It said that children are fighting in almost every major conflict, in both government and opposition forces. They are being injured, subjected to horrific abuse and killed.
The Coalition accused governments at the European Union, G-8 and UN Security Council of a failure of leadership. It called for the immediate enforcement of a ban on the use of child soldiers.
"Children should be protected from warfare not used to wage it. Instead generations are having their childhoods stolen by governments and armed groups," said Casey Kelso, head of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
"A world that does not allow children to fight wars is possible, but governments must show the political will and courage to make this happen by enforcing international laws."
'Child Soldiers Global Report 2004' reviews trends and developments since 2001 in 196 countries. Despite some improvements the situation remained the same or deteriorated in many countries. Wars ending in Afghanistan, Angola and Sierra Leone led to the demobilization of 40,000 children, but over 25,000 were drawn into conflicts in Côte d'Ivoire and Sudan alone.
Opportunities for progress, including the creation of and growing support for a UN child soldiers treaty, the creation of demobilization programs in some countries and momentum towards prosecutions of those recruiting children, have been undermined by governments actively breaking pledges or failing to show political leadership.
Although the UN Security Council has condemned child soldiering and monitors those using children in war, some members have blocked real progress by opposing concrete penalties for violators. The Coalition said that the Security Council should take immediate and decisive action to get children out of conflict by applying targeted sanctions and referring child recruiters to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
Armed groups, both government-backed paramilitaries and opposition forces, are the main culprits in recruitment and use of child soldiers. Dozens of groups in at least 21 conflicts have recruited tens of thousands of children since 2001, forcing them into combat, training them to use explosives and weapons, and subjecting them to rape, violence and hard labour.
Girls and boys in the opposition Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, for example, were subjected to "war councils" for disciplinary offences and in some cases other children were forced to execute them. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, armed groups sexually abused and raped girls and forced children to kill their own relatives.
The Coalition said that all armed groups should protect children from conflict or be held legally accountable.
Governments, including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Sudan and the USA, used children on the front lines in at least 10 conflicts. Others, including Colombia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, backed paramilitary groups and militias that used child soldiers. States such as Indonesia and Nepal used children as informants, spies or messengers.
Some governments, including Burundi, Indonesia and the Russian Federation, killed, tortured or arbitrarily detained children suspected of supporting armed opposition. Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces were tortured or threatened to coerce them to become informants.
Western governments broke commitments to protect children by providing military training and support to governments using child soldiers, such as Rwanda and Uganda.
The Coalition called on governments to ban all recruitment of under-18s into any armed force and to ratify and fully implement the UN child soldiers treaty, which is helping to reduce the numbers of children used in hostilities.
At least 60 governments, including Australia, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the USA, continue to legally recruit children aged 16 and 17.
Notes to editors
1. The Steering Committee of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers consists of Amnesty International, Defence for Children International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation Terre des Hommes, International Save the Children Alliance, Jesuit Refugee Service, the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and World Vision International.
2. 'UN child soldiers treaty' refers to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This prohibits the participation of children under the age of 18 in hostilities and all forced recruitment of children. It calls on states to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment. By October 2004 it had been ratified by 85 states and signed by 116.