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Standing Up for the Youngest Victims

A child soldier in the DRC.
A child soldier in the DRC.

“Children as young as nine years of age were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment".

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued in June an annual report to the Security Council, detailing grave violations committed in 2011 against children in conflict zones.

Standing Up for the Youngest Victims
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The United Nations Security Council met in mid-September to discuss the issue, and passed a resolution supporting an extension of annual reports that identify those countries and groups victimizing youngsters, and calling on member states to bring those responsible for such violations to justice, either through national or international judicial systems.

This year’s report identified 52 countries and armed groups that recruit and use children as soldiers or unknowing suicide bombers; kill and maim children; commit sexual violence against them, or attack schools and hospitals.

“The report documents many and continuing instances of appalling abuses against children,” said U.S. Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs, Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis at the meeting. He noted that for example in Central Africa, the Lord's Resistance Army abducted hundreds of children and used child soldiers to carry out attacks and abduct more children.

Al-Shabaab and other violent groups recruited nearly a thousand child soldiers in the Horn of Africa. And in Syria, said Ambassador DeLaurentis, “children as young as nine years of age were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, and use as human shields. Schools have been regularly raided and used as military bases and detention centers.”

There are, however, signs of progress as well. Since September 2011, five new action plans to stop and prevent the recruitment and use of children were signed between the United Nations and parties in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia and Burma.

At the same time, verdicts passed by international courts against former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga and former Liberian president Charles Taylor set important international legal precedent on the war crime of recruiting and using children.

“Our work to date to remove children from the scourge of armed conflict has seen great progress through the implementation of Action Plans and focused work to educate armed groups,” said Ambassador DeLaurentis. “But we must still summon the resolve to hold accountable the most recalcitrant perpetrators and redouble our commitment to end impunity.”