300,000 Child Soldiers Fighting in 41 Nations

87 Countries Use Minors in Some Capacity, Group Says

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, JUNE 13, 2001 (Zenit.org).- More than 300,000 children, some as young as 7, are fighting as soldiers in 41 countries, a children´s rights group says.

Overall, 87 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, under-18-year-olds are recruited into government armed forces, paramilitaries, civil militia and non-state armed groups, though they are not necessarily used in combat.

Africa´s wars involve more than 120,000 children, according to the report Tuesday by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

Children are often forced to guard the oil and diamond fields that finance African insurgencies, the Associated Press noted.

While their enlistment in poor nations is motivated by their low cost, in rich nations it is because of the lack of recruits, the report said.

On June 3, John Paul II made an urgent appeal to the international community to put an end to the recruitment of minors, so that «children, the future and hope of humanity, may at last grow up far from the scourge of war and all forms of violence.»

On June 5, the Vatican mission to the United Nations in New York organized a seminar on the topic.

The phenomenon «is not exclusive to the developing world; the U.S. and the United Kingdom accompany Myanmar, Sudan and Afghanistan in the deployment of minors in combats,» the document specifies, signed by a dozen humanitarian groups. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

According to the report, more than half the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe accept adolescents under 18 in their armed forces. In the United Kingdom, 16-year-olds are recruited and sent to fight at 17.

The United States, which allows voluntary enlistment at 17, used minors in the Gulf War and later in Somalia and the Balkans.

The use of child soldiers in the Mideast and Latin America has declined as conflicts there have ended, the report said.

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