The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers welcomed last night's Security Council resolution condemning the effects of war on children. The Coalition expressed disappointment, however, that the Council failed to call for stronger measures to stop the use of child soldiers.
"The Security Council is now talking seriously about the violence, abuse and exploitation endured by children in war," said Jo Becker, steering committee chair for the Coalition. "But words alone are not going to help the 300,000 kids now serving in combat around the world. We're looking for concrete action."
"Existing international standards prohibiting the use of children as soldiers simply aren't good enough," said Becker. "If the Council is serious about stopping this practice, it needs to call for a prohibition on any recruitment or participation in armed conflict of children under the age of eighteen, and ensure the enforcement of existing standards, including stronger efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the recruitment of children."
In an August 11 letter to members of the Security Council, the Coalition made a series of recommendations for the Council's consideration. Among its recommendations, it urged the Security Council to:
- support a minimum age of eighteen for all recruitment and all participation in hostilities through the establishment of an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- encourage ratification of the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court, which includes among its list of war crimes the conscription or enlistment of children under the age of fifteen into armed forces, or using them to participate actively in hostilities;
- increase monitoring the transfers of small arms, which are a significant and well-known contributor to the use of child soldiers;
- monitor commitments made by both governmental and non-governmental armed forces with respect to the non-recruitment of children;
- ensure that peace agreements include comprehensive demobilization programs that are specifically designed for child soldiers and which provide for family tracing and reunification, counseling, rehabilitation, and address the special educational and vocational needs of former child soldiers.
The Coalition, formed in 1998, encompasses national campaigns in more than thirty countries worldwide. It is campaigning for an increase in the minimum age for recruitment and participation in hostilities from the existing fifteen, to eighteen, through an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite five years of negotiations by a UN working group, the protocol has not yet been completed.
The Coalition is organizing a series of regional conferences on the use of child soldiers for representatives of governments and civil society. An African regional conference was held in Mozambique in April of this year, followed by a conference for Latin America and the Caribbean in July. A third conference for the European region will be held in Berlin in mid-October, 1999.
Members of the Coalition Steering Committee include Amnesty International, Defence for Children International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation Terre des Hommes, International Save the Children Alliance, Jesuit Refugee Service, Quaker United Nations Office, and World Vision International.