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Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Protection sought for children in war
child soldier
Child recruits common in many West African conflicts
By Mike Donkin

West African foreign and defence ministers are meeting to formulate an action plan to prevent a repeat of atrocities against children seen in recent conflicts in the region.

The young have been used in the most cruel ways imaginable

Canadian High Commissioner Janet Graham

Military officials are also attending the two-day conference in the Ghanaian capital Accra, which will examine the way children have been killed, made refugees and recruited as soldiers in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone.

West Africa has a dismal record of inflicting suffering on the young.

In Liberia's recent civil war a million people were forced from their homes - half of them children.

child victim
Many children were mutilated during the war in Sierra Leone

Eight thousand boys were recruited as soldiers.

Two-thirds of Liberian high school students reported in a survey that they knew someone who had been killed, tortured or raped.

In Sierra Leone 10,000 children are still living in camps, separated from families split up by war.

Child recruits

In nearly a decade of conflict boys as young as eight became active combatants.

Child soldier
Some soldiers are as young as eight

Young girls were routinely raped and forced to be "wives" to army commanders.

The Accra forum, which has been organised by the United Nations education organisation Unesco, will hear that children in West Africa have not just been caught up in recent conflicts - but targeted by the factions involved.

When the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, was invaded by rebel forces in January last year 4,000 children were abducted. Many of them are still missing.

Canada's High Commissioner to Ghana Janet Graham, one of the conference organisers, said the young had been used in the most cruel ways imaginable.

The aid agency Save The Children is preparing a new international campaign to protect what it calls the ever growing ranks of young people made refugees by war.

The charity says many are denied basic health and education and forced to live on the margins of society for years.

The effects can last a lifetime and sow the seeds for future conflict .

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21 Jan 00 | Europe
Child soldier ban moves closer
25 Jun 99 | Africa
The child victims of war
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