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The BBC's Barbara Plett reports from Amman
on the conferences progress
 real 28k

Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Child soldiers in the firing line
Sudanese rebels
Children fight on both sides in Sudan's civil war
Thousands of children, some as young as 10, are serving with armed groups in the Middle East and North Africa, an international conference on the plight of child soldiers has been told.

The conference in Jordan's capital, Amman, is being organised by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, which groups together several international human rights associations.

Conference delegates from regional governments, the UN and aid agencies are looking at legal measures aimed at protecting children from being unwillingly drafted into armed conflicts.

Experts said that, just in North Africa and the Middle East, children are engaged in fighting in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Turkey and Yemen.

Many countries include military drill and indoctrination as part of regular school programmes, they said.

International pressure

A spokesman for the group, Rory Mungoven, told the BBC that the conference was aimed at increasing international pressure to stop the use of child soldiers.

Iranian soldiers
Iran lost many youths in its war with Iraq
He said there had been an improvement in the Middle East since the large-scale use of child soldiers in the Lebanese civil war and the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

But he noted that neither Iran nor Iraq had sent representatives to the conference.

Many other governments in the region are represented at the three-day conference, he said.

The coalition says it has no evidence of children being recruited or used systematically by the Palestinian Authority or armed groups in the intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule.

It estimates that less than 1% of Palestinian adolescents have played an active role in clashes with Israeli troops.

Sudan problem

According to Mr Mungoven, Sudan is "one of the worst child soldier problems in the world".

More than 10,000 children are fighting on the government side or for rebel groups in southern Sudan, he said.

Only three countries - Bangladesh, Canada and Sri Lanka - out of the 192 UN member states have so far ratified a UN document on the protection of children in armed conflict. It has been signed, however, by 75 states.

Jordan, Turkey and Morocco are among the regional signatories of the document, which needs to be ratified by at least 10 UN members to go into effect.

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See also:

21 Feb 01 | Africa
UN finds Congo child soldiers
06 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Battle over 'child' soldiers
22 Jan 00 | Europe
Child soldier ban moves closer
18 May 00 | South Asia
New plea to ban child soldiers
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