05/10/2011 - A breakaway faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army has formed an action plan on eliminating the use of child soldiers with the African Union-UN peacekeeping mission in the region.
An armed faction operating in Darfur, Sudan, has agreed to halt and prohibit the recruitment and use of child soldiers in its ranks after concluding discussions with the joint African Union-United Nations hybrid mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, welcomed the decision.
The faction in question was the Sudan Liberation Army’s Historical Leadership, a rogue group of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Abdel Wahid. The group submitted an action plan on how to tackle the issue through the UNAMID mission head, Ibrahim Gambari on September 25th. The successful fulfillment of the action plan would bring the group's actions in this regard into compliance with the Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict.
Usman Musa, who is the leader of the Historical Leadership faction, ordered his group's members to stop recruiting and using children. He also put a ban on attacking schools and hospital, as well as “all behaviour that leads to abuse and violence against children, including sexual abuse and forced marriage.”
That said. Mr. Musa maintains that his group does not recruit children systematically. Some of the 120 children discovered within its ranks were unaccompanied minors who had become separated from their families and found shelter with the group.
Mr. Musa's group is not the first group to enter into such an action plan with the UN. Other armed factions including the SLA/Free Will, SLA/Abu Gasim and the Justice and Equality Movement (Peace Wing) have all made commitments to end the use of child soldiers.
“The aim of UNAMID child protection is to assist the parties to the conflict and local communities to claim full ownership of the protection of children in anticipation of UNAMID’s eventual exit from Darfur,” said Boubacar Dieng, head of the UNAMID Child Protection Unit, adding that the responsibility for ensuring the safety of children ultimately rests on the shoulders of the people of Darfur themselves.
Mr. Musa’s group will conduct assessments on the presence of children in other regions and submit it to the North Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission with the aim of rehabilitating the children and returning them to their communities.
A total of 15 armed groups in the Darfur region are listed as recruiting or using child soldiers, as per the UN Secretary-General's latest report. So far, more than one thousand former child combatants have been registered with the Commission.
Last week at UN meetings, five additional countries – Angola, Armenia, Bosnia, Costa Rica and San Marino – signed onto the Paris Principles. The Principles were adopted at a 2007 meeting in France to set out guidelines to prevent the recruitment, protection and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict. Last year, UNICEF helped to reintegrate 10,000 children associated with armed groups.
According to Human Rights Watch, a prominent non-governmental organization, children have been used in 21 conflict zones across the world over the past decade. Worldwide, there are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers fighting or otherwise serving with armed groups, despite the fact that international law protects youngsters under the age of 15 from taking part in the hostilities. Many states have even agreed to ensure that children under the age of 18 do not undertake combat roles.