A Child is not a Soldier, African Nations Agree

11/6/2010 - UN Security Council Resolutions 1612 and 1882 call for the end of the use of child soldiers. With the signing of the N’Djamena Declaration in Chad, there is more political support for world's 200 000-300 000 child soldiers.

It was with optimism and unadulterated enthusiasm and that new UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake greeted the news that the N’Djamena Declaration was signed by six out of the nine nations attending the conference on the use of child soldiers in Chad this week.

“With leadership, with commitment and with collaboration, we can make progress and protect the children who so desperately need our help,” said Lake.

The Declaration was sign in the closing ceremonies of the “Regional Conference: Ending Recruitment and Use of Children in Armed Forces and Groups Contributing to Peace, Justice, & Development,” attended by 150 delegate in the Chad’s capital city (after which the Declaration is named).

All in all, Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon signed the Declaration, which outlines states’ responsibilities for the immediate cessation of the use of child soldiers as well as release and reintegration action. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone did not sign the declaration.

As a piece of binding regional law, the Declaration is also in line with international standards, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict that extends the protection of the law to children under eighteen years old (and not only fifteen, as in the CRC), as well as Paris Principles on Recruitment and Use of Children by Armed Forces and Armed Groups. Both Chas and Sudan have signed and ratified the Option Protocol to the CRC; Cameroon and Nigeria, however, have not yet ratified it, and neither the CAR nor Niger have signed it.

In order to ensure accountability and compliance with the N’Djamena Declaraion, the countries will agree upon the establishment of an implementation committee that will oversee the creation of provisions for monitoring and reporting.

Former child soldiers Ishmael Beah and Emmanuel Jal were in attendance at a free concert in support of the conference in N’Djamena. Zaccheline Dugbe, former Liberian fighter, also shared her story. Such stories bring an emotional and “human” elements to rather high-level discussions.

The signing of the N’Djamena Declaration improves children in war-torn countries’ chances of being children, of having that treasured time of childhood that so many of us here in wealthy, peaceful countries take for granted. Chadian Minister for Social Action Ngarbatina Soukate reaffirmed a child’s right to childhood: “A child’s place is with their family, a child’s place is at school,” she said.