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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 12:49 GMT
UN wants child soldiers demobilised
Child soldiers
The average age of child soldiers is 13 says Unicef
The United Nations believes there are 70,000 child soldiers in armies across East and South-East Asia, some as young as seven.


If the militia asks you to do anything, just do it or they will kill us

Vasco, East Timor
Other human rights groups believe the true figure could be even higher.

The head of the UN Children's Fund (Unicef), Carol Bellamy, said such an illegal and morally reprehensible practice had no place in civilised societies.

Ms Bellamy cited a Unicef study covering Burma, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

She said thousands of children were being pressed into armies at gunpoint and forced to witness or commit atrocities including rape and murder.

The Unicef researchers said the average age of the child soldiers was 13.

Brutal training

Ms Bellamy said the report and other recent research "has clearly shown that thousands of children are still being recruited - often by force - into state and non-state armies in the region.

"We want government and non-state parties to stop and desist," she said.

The children talked of brutal training regimes, hard labour and severe punishments.

Some said they had been forced to witness or commit rape and murder, while others spoke of seeing friends and family killed.

Young soldiers
Many child soldiers spoke of brutal regimes
Nearly all those interviewed had been given weapons and served in combat.

One of the child soldiers, identified only as Vasco, said he joined a militia in East Timor for eight months when he was 14.

"When the militia came, my parents were very afraid and said to me, 'If the militia asks you to do anything, just do it or they will kill us,"' the Unicef report quoted him saying.

"They ordered us to rape," he said. "They beat me with a piece of wood every day.

"I wake up still from bad dreams. I am still constantly afraid."

Care call

The youngest of the 67 boys and two girls interviewed was a boy from Burma.

He said he was seven when he was recruited by government soldiers who promised him food and sweets.

Another boy from Burma, who joined the military at nine, said he was dragged from his house because he was considered an adult.

The 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) set the legal minimum age for military recruitment at 15.

Ms Bellamy said that ratifying an Optional Protocol to the CRC that outlaws children under 18 from being used in hostilities would be a "crucial first step to ending the recruitment of children for armed combat."

Unicef is calling for countries to demobilise all child soldiers, to provide support for their reintegration into society and to provide them with psychological and social care.

Their estimate of the number of child soldiers compares with a recent survey by Human Rights Watch, which said 70,000 children in Burma alone were serving with the army or rebel armed groups.


Peace efforts

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20 Jun 02 | South Asia
25 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
12 Mar 02 | South Asia
11 Feb 02 | In Depth
10 May 00 | Africa
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