No fewer than 115,000 children recruited by armies and militia groups as child soldiers have been released in the past 17 years to regain their childhood, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms Leila Zerrougui, has said.
Zerrougui, who said that more children are now laying down their guns, pointed out that the greatest achievement of working on her mandate for the past 20 years is that “everyone is aware of the plight of children in armed conflict”.
“Since 2000, the work of the Office and partners has led to the release of more than 115,000 child soldiers.
“In addition to freeing child soldiers and ending their recruitment, the Office of the Special Representative has made progress in tackling the use of schools by the military, and stopping attacks on schools and hospitals,” she said on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of her office’s mandate.
“Because people are aware that opened doors then to strengthen the protection, to prevent the violation, to put in place tools, mechanisms, a legal framework.
The Office of the Special Representative works to eliminate six grave violations: recruitment and use of children, killing and maiming of children, sexual violence against children, attacks on school and hospitals, abduction of children, and denial of humanitarian access.
“That allowed us today to say, for example, that we have consensus that children should not be recruited, should not be used in conflict, particularly by government forces.
“And where we have this consensus, we have less and less Governments that use children.
“In fact, there are seven countries currently listed in the Secretary-General’s latest report that use child soldiers – Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.
“Some militias and armed groups in those countries are also listed, as are some in the Central African Republic, Colombia, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, and Syria.
“They are among the 27 Governments and non-State actors that have signed action plans with the UN to end recruitment.”
The Office of the Special Representative, in cooperation with the UN Children’s Fund and other partners, is working with the Governments of those countries to end the practice, she said.
In the DRC, where the recruitment of child soldiers known as “kadogo” is endemic, the Government has taken “robust action and is well on its way to making its armed forces child-free,” according to the Office.
“We have changed how we look at children. We don’t recruit them anymore, it’s in our blood.
“The change is irreversible,” the office quoted an army general as recently telling the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC.
In 2014, the Office and UNICEF launched the Children, “Not Soldiers” campaign , which aims to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers by Government armies.
As the UN marks 20 years of work to improve protection of children affected by conflicts, Zerrougui said she is reaching out to parents, elders, and the entire international community to keep children away from armies and militias. (NAN)