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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 03:25 GMT
Child soldier asks UN for help
Alhaji Babah Sawane
Alhaji was just 10 years old when he was abducted (Picture: Unicef)
A former child soldier from Sierra Leone has addressed the United Nations Security Council, calling on the body to do everything possible to help young people forced to fight in conflict zones around the world.

I ask this body on behalf of all the children of Sierra Leone to do all they can to bring our sad story to an end

Alhaji Babah Sawane
Fourteen-year-old Alhaji Babah Sawane - the first child to speak at the UNSC - told the council that children should be free of the fear of military recruitment and abduction.

The UN estimates there are more than 300,000 children in government armies, rebel forces and guerrilla groups in more than 30 countries, including at least 5,000 child soldiers in Sierra Leone.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Council the situation in Afghanistan had reaffirmed the need to alleviate the plight of children in armed conflict.

The Council also heard speeches highlighting the enduring concern from Muslim countries about the suffering of children in the Middle East conflict.

The UNSC later unanimously adopted a resolution urging all member states to ratify a UN treaty prohibiting the recruitment of children under the age of 18 into the armed forces.

Victim and perpetrator

Alhaji was just 10 years old when Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone abducted, beat and robbed him before teaching him to fire an assault rifle in his new role as soldier for the next two and a half years.

Children playing football
A programme in Sudan tries to rehabilitate child soldiers by doing ordinary things
"I ask this body on behalf of all the children of Sierra Leone to do all they can to bring our sad story to an end. We want to be able to move about freely in all parts of the country. We want to be able to visit our friends and families without fear of abduction, recruitment and other dangers," Alhaji said.

The battle to help the child soldiers is not just limited to preventing recruitment, but extends to rehabilitation.

"With family members, I have faced a lot of distrust. Some doubt whether I will ever be a 'normal child' again," Alhaji told the Security Council.

Alhaji was released in January 2000 after the UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone persuaded his RUF commander to hand over 250 child soldiers.

Civilian life

He was looked after by a Catholic relief agency before going to live with a foster mother because his family has not been found.

"I did bad things in the bush and I saw very bad things done to both children and adults," he said, adding that the disarmament and demobilisation programme which the UN is helping to run had "helped me feel natural and normal again".

The protection of children in wars and conflict zones has become an enduring mission for the United Nations in recent years.

The resolution the UN Security Council adopted on Tuesday was the third of its kind since August 1999, although diplomats said it contained little that was new in an operational sense, and was designed mainly to sharpen international focus on the issue.

The UN even has a special representative dedicated to the issue of children and armed conflict.

The representative, Olara Otunna, said the international community was not doing enough to help girls caught in combat.

"Sadly there are fighting groups whose preferred agents to serve as suicide commandos remain girls," she said.

Alhaji Babah Sawane
"We want to be able to visit our friends and families without fear of abduction"
See also:

14 Nov 01 | Europe
French children urged to disarm
22 Nov 01 | Africa
Sierra rebels free child soldiers
12 Jun 01 | Europe
UK 'shamed' over teenage soldiers
21 Feb 01 | Africa
UN finds Congo child soldiers
25 Jun 99 | Africa
The child victims of war
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