Child-Soldier Addresses U.N. Security Council

«Put an End to Our Tragedy,» 14-Year-Old Pleads

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NEW YORK, NOV. 22, 2001 ( Alhaji Babah Sawane, a 14-year-old war veteran, had a simple message for the U.N. Security Council.

«On behalf of all the children of Sierra Leone,» he said Tuesday, «I ask your organization to do everything possible to put an end to our tragedy.»

Never before had a minor addressed the U.N.´s executive body. Sawane is one of the 300,000 child-soldiers in more than 30 countries who, according to U.N. sources, are forced to fight in the ranks of government and mercenary armies.

There are 5,000 child-soldiers in Sawane´s native Sierra Leone alone.

The young speaker was only 10 when he was taken from his family, trained to use weapons, and forced to enroll in the United Revolutionaries´ Front (RUF).

«I ask you to help us find the possibility again to move around freely in all areas of the country,» Sawane pleaded. «We ask you to restore the possibility to visit our families, our friends, without the fear of being kidnapped, recruited and thrown into goodness-knows-what horrors.»

Sawane was freed last January, after a long process of «negotiation» by U.N. peace forces with the RUF commanders. Along with Sawane, 250 other child-soldiers were also rescued.

Sawane was helped by a Catholic rescue association before being entrusted to an adoptive mother. He was unable to find his own parents.

For years the Catholic Church has actively campaigned for an end to the recruitment of child-soldiers. On June 3, John Paul II appealed to the international community to halt this scandal.

Two days later, the Vatican´s permanent mission at the United Nations organized a symposium at the U.N. headquarters on «Children in Armed Conflicts: Everyone´s Responsibility.»

After an armistice was signed in Sierra Leone in July 1999, the Catholic Church began the process of rehabilitation and re-education of children who have spent their childhood playing with real guns.

After hearing Sawane´s story, the U.N. Security Council decided unanimously to adopt an urgent resolution, to be ratified by all member states, which prohibits the recruitment of children younger than 18.

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