UNICEF has launched a campaign to demobilise and reintegrate 300,000 child soldiers, a quarter of whom are in East Asia and the Pacific Countries. These children are used by both government and non-state armies.
The Executive Director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy, stated that the use of children for military purposes should be considered as “an illegal and morally reprehensible practice that has no place in civilised societies”. A UNICEF report, “Adult Wars, Child Soldiers: Voices of Children” claims that there are still “large numbers” of child soldiers in East Asia and the Pacific Countries, some still integrated in armies in countries where there is no conflict.
Carol Bellamy claims that thousands of children have been forced into military conflicts, often through threats of violence and it is time to bring an end to this “profound abuse of children’s rights”. Countries mentioned in the report are Myanmar, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. UNICEF interviewed many of these children during the process of drawing up the report.
“The voices of these children constitute a cry for help on behalf of all child soldiers, a cry that we cannot afford to ignore,” concluded Bellamy. They mentioned brutal training regimes, hard labour and severe punishment meted out, including being forced to rape and murder, or witness others perpetrating these crimes. Children as young as seven years of age have been recruited. UNICEF aims to help to provide schooling and vocational training schemes and psycho-social care and support programmes.
The 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates 15 as the minimum age for recruitment, an Optional Protocol attached to the Convention raising this age to 18. So far, in the region, the Convention has only been ratified by Vietnam and the Philippines
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru