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World treaty set to ban children in combat
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Saturday, 23 February 2002
A ban on the use of children as soldiers, a human rights violation suffered by nearly a half million minors worldwide, has been approved by nearly a hundred countries in a treaty on the issue that entered into force February 12. The juridical instrument, known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, establishes that no one under 18 shall be compulsorily drafted into military service.
The Protocol also requires that governments raise the minimum age for voluntary enlistment in military institutions to 16.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said her office is “urging all governments and armed groups to end the military recruitment of children under 18 and to release and rehabilitate those children already in service.” “There can no longer be any excuses for using children for war,” Robinson added.

A half-million minors serve in governmental, paramilitary and other sorts of armed forces in 85 countries around the world, says the non-governmental Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

Of that half-million, more than 300,000 participate in active combat in armed conflicts under way in more than 35 countries, according to the Coalition, founded in 1998 to mobilise international public opinion against the use of minors in war.

The participation of children in wars is comparable to the use of landmines or chemical or biological weapons: unacceptable under any circumstances, said Rory Mungoven, director of the coalition.

The Optional Protocol, adopted in May 2000, has been signed so far by 94 countries. Just 14 have ratified the treaty. The document enters into force after the first 10 ratification.

Mungoven criticised the slowness of the Protocol ratification process. The Coalition leader stressed that governments and armed groups that utilise children among their ranks must be rebuffed in the international arena.

The most egregious cases of child recruitment are found in Africa and Asia, though it also occurs in the Americas, Europe, and Middle East.
Most of the minors enlisted as soldiers worldwide are 15 to 18 years old, but in many cases children as young as 10 are recruited, and at times they are even younger. Girls as well as boys are used as soldiers. However, girls are at particular risk of rape, sexual harassment and abuse.

There has been some progress in the recent years with some governments and guerrilla organisations announcing the demobilisation of minors.

The countries that have ratified the Protocol on child soldiers are Andorra, Bangladesh, Canada, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iceland, Kenya, Monaco, New Zealand, Panama, Romania, Sri Lanka, the Vatican and Vietnam.

The entry into force of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict is the second recent victory in favour of the consolidation of children’s rights. On Jan. 18, another Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child took effect, banning the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, aimed at protecting an estimated one million children who are victims of this sort of exploitation around the world.

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