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Rory Mungoven
"The longer conflicts drag on the more likely children are to be involved"
 real 28k

Ishmael Beah
was recruited to fight in Sierra Leone when he was just 14
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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Children still abused by African armies
Child soldier in Sierra Leone
Children are seen as easier to brain wash
There has been little change in the use of child soldiers in African conflicts over the past year despite United Nations calls for the practice to stop, according to a new report.

We were distributed to men and I was given to a man who had just killed his woman

Abducted Ugandan girl
The report published on Tuesday by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers defines a child soldier as anyone under 18 and says more than 120,000 are currently fighting in Africa.

The report describes the issue as a global problem and highlights abuses in Europe, but it says that the situation is "most critical in Africa and Asia".

Children are often seen as cheap, expendable and easy to brain wash into making them fearless fighters.

Children playing football
A programme in Sudan tries to rehabilitate child soldiers by doing ordinary things
It is for these reasons that children continue to be used in conflicts despite the efforts of non-governmental organisations and the statements by African governments that recruitment would stop.

Researchers found that children are not just being used on the frontline. They also operate as "spies, messengers, sentries, porters, servants and sexual slaves".

One 14-year-old Ugandan girl recalled how she was abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and taken to their camps in Sudan.

This report is just disseminating Eritrean propaganda

Ethiopian spokesman
She said: "We were distributed to men and I was given to a man who had just killed his woman. Girls who refused to become LRA wives were killed in front of us."

The nearly three-year long war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has created one of the worst problems. The report says children from neighbouring countries have been recruited to participate in the war.

One commander involved in the DR Congo conflict is quoted as saying "[children] make good fighters because they're young and want to show off. They think it's a game, so they're fearless."

In Sierra Leone the efforts of the rebel Revolutionary United Front to recruit children have often been highlighted. The report also says that children have also been recruited to the government-sponsored Citizen Defence Forces.

It is estimated that at least 5,000 children are involved in the fighting in Sierra Leone.

'Not true'

The report is not without its critics. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says that Ethiopia "press-ganged thousands of secondary school students" in to fighting in the recent war with Eritrea.

Sierra Leone
Some young people are forcefully recruited
This claim was dismissed by Yemane Kidane from Ethiopia's foreign affairs ministry.

He said: "There are no child soldiers in Ethiopia. This report is just disseminating Eritrean propaganda.

"We are not short of human resources, we have enough young men who voluntarily conscripted themselves into the army during the war."

Yemane Kidane then pointed the finger at Eritrea: "It is in fact Eritrea that took children and students from schools and colleges and placed them in the trenches."

Comments like these highlight the difficulty of finding out the exact nature of the problem, where a lot of evidence is anecdotal and can be confused with propaganda.

In West Africa, however, there is no doubt that children have been used. And there have been successes in recent months. In May, the United Nations in Sierra Leone said that the RUF had handed over 600 child soldiers as part of the process to end the civil war.

They think it's a game, so they're fearless

Commander in the DRC
The Sudanese People's Liberation Army said last year that it would stop recruiting soldiers under the age of 18. But it is not clear whether it has stuck to the agreement.

Most African countries set the legal minimum recruitment age at 18, but this is often not stuck to in practice.

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which came in to force at the end of 1999, banned the use of anyone under 18 in conflicts. However, it is difficult to see how this can be enforced.

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