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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK


UN move to protect children from war

An estimated 300,000 children are currently involved in armed conflicts

The United Nations Security Council has called on all countries to do more to protect children in war zones.

UN special representative Olara Otunnu tells the BBC: "This is ground-breaking"
It unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the recruitment of child soldiers and the killing and abuse of children in conflicts.

The resolution, which was passed after a day-long debate, said:

  • Governments should prosecute people who recruit children to fight
  • There should be special protection for children against rape and other abuses
  • Their welfare should be incorporated into peace negotiations
  • The UN secretary-general should ensure peacekeeping forces receive special training in the protection of children

The council was told that 300,000 children were currently serving as soldiers, guerrilla fighters or in support roles in more than 30 countries, including Sudan, Colombia, Angola, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

The BBC's Jane Hughes: "The statistics are stark"
Some were as young as seven or eight.

"Unfortunately, the development of lighter, more sophisticated weapons has made it easier to send both boys and girls into combat," said the US representative, Nancy Soderberg.

[ image: US representative Nancy Soderberg: Lighter weapons can be used by the very young]
US representative Nancy Soderberg: Lighter weapons can be used by the very young
The council heard that in the past decade, wars had killed two million children and maimed six million, as well as creating 12 million refugees.

"Children neither start wars nor perpetrate them," said the deputy UK ambassador, Stuart Eldon.

"They should not pay the price for adults' wars."

Higher age limit opposed

The UN's special respresentative for children and armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, appealed for the ratification and worldwide application of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

[ image: A move to increase the recruitment age to 18 was rejected]
A move to increase the recruitment age to 18 was rejected
"Words on paper cannot save children and women in peril," he told the council.

He also called for the age limit for the recruitment of soldiers to be raised from 15 to 18.

However, the US opposed the move, saying it wanted to retain the ability to recruit for the military from high school.

After the meeting, Mr Otunnu told the BBC he believed the resolution could have a real effect.

"The very fact that the council, which normally only deals with high politics and military aggression, should be engaged in humanitarian and human rights issue... and not just in a statement, but in a formal resolution, that signals the strongest possible message that one could get," he said.

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