Child Soldiers: a Grim Reality Lingers

Group Says International Treaty Hasn’t Solved Problem

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LONDON, FEB. 13, 2003 ( A year after the start of an international treaty banning child soldiers, a group warns that the problem is far from solved.

«Child soldiers continue to be abused as foot soldiers, porters, lookouts and sexual slaves,» said Casey Kelso, coordinator of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. «The problem is not decreasing.»

The coalition warned the world community against assuming that the issue of child soldiers could be struck-off simply because their use was now banned by international law.

The issue of child soldiers has been addressed at the U.N. Security Council, which has taken a landmark decision to list the names of those who are recruiting youngsters.

In December, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s report to the Security Council identified 23 groups involved in the use of child soldiers, in Afghanistan, Burundi, Congo, Liberia and Somalia.

The United Nations also pointed a finger at the government forces of Burundi, Congo and Liberia for using children as soldiers.

At the end of January, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1460 on children and armed conflicts, calling on the secretary-general to include information about protecting youngsters in all his country-specific reports.

«It is essential for the Security Council to make a commitment to accountability to take appropriate action against those using or recruiting child soldiers,» Kelso said.

Although 111 countries have signed the «child soldiers’ treaty,» only 46 countries have actually made a binding legal commitment to enforce the Optional Protocol.

«This first anniversary of the Optional Protocol should not be a celebration but a time to call upon other countries to join the international community in condemning this appalling practice,» Kelso added.

The coalition cited some countries of concern where child soldiers are being used, including:

— Myanmar (or Burma), where an estimated 70,000 children are in uniform in the army. Some as young as 11 are forcibly conscripted by kidnapping or threats of prison.

— Colombia, where up to 14,000 child soldiers — boys and girls as young as 10 — are reportedly recruited into armed paramilitary groups and militias.

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