7/6/2010 – Thousands of children remain engaged in combat in central Africa despite the international condemnation. In Chad tomorrow, African delegates will come to a conclusion on how to best protect the African child from this fate.
A conference on Africa’s child soldiers continues today in N’Djamena, Chad. The conference, “Ending the Recruitment and Use of Children in Armed Forces and Groups: Contributing to Peace, Justice and Development” is jointly hosted by Chad’s government and UNICEF. It kicked off yesterday and was attended by many international notables.
The use of children under fifteen years old is considered illegal under international law. It is fervidly prohibited under Article 38.2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict allows state parties to extend protection against forcible recruitment into armed groups to children under the age of eighteen years old. While all countries except the USA and Somalia have ratified the CRC itself, there are many more that have not ratified the optional protocol. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon last month called on the international community to universally ratify it by 2012.
While Sri Lanka has recently announced that it has now rehabilitated the last of the child soldiers used by the Tamil Tigers, Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic have been less successful in curbing this violation of child rights. Marzio Babille, Chad’s in-country UNICEF official warned that armed groups (state or non-state) can be tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The conference in Chad will touch on the legal, political and geographical challenges of child protection, as well as the importance of preventing recruitment. So too will the other facets of child soldiers be discussed; of these, gender-based violence, psychosocial support, and access to education or income-generating activities for reintegrated former child soldiers are paramount.
UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War, Ishmael Beah, and hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal—both former child soldiers from Sierra Leone and Sudan, respectively—are to be involved in the discussions.
Marking the tenth anniversary of the optional protocol to the CRC, the Secretary-General lamented the continued abuse of children in different parts of the world. “In too many instances, they are treated as criminals instead of being protected as victims, “ he said, “and there are too many conflicts where children are used as soldiers, spies or human shields.”
The conference will wrap up tomorrow. It is expected that the delegates will come to a consensus over the N’Djamena Declaration, which is to be signed by Chad, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon.