|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
In a move hailed as an important first step towards the protection of children in Afghanistan, that country’s Government recently signed a landmark agreement to release children from the national security forces, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said today at a Headquarters press conference.
Ms. Coomaraswamy said she had witnessed in Kabul the 30 January signing of the accord by which the Government of Afghanistan agreed to prevent the recruitment of children into the national security forces. The action plan — part of a broader initiative under way to better protect children caught in conflict — was a response to the Secretary-General’s listing, in a 2010 report to the Security Council, of the Afghan National Police for recruiting and using children.
With the verification by the United Nations of the agreement’s successful implementation, and proper investigation of those responsible, the Afghan police would be eligible for de-listing, she said. The United Nations stood ready — at the highest level — to support Afghanistan in fulfilling the agreement, she said, stressing that the action plan was “not just a document to be tossed in a drawer”.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Ms. Coomaraswamy had stated: “With this solid foundation for the prevention and response to child rights violations in place, let us begin immediately as today to implement these commitments. There is a challenging road ahead and girls and boys in Afghanistan are eagerly awaiting our action”.
The Office of the Special Representative described the agreement as immediately operational, identifying concrete, time-bound and verifiable activities to be undertaken by Afghan ministries with the support of United Nations agencies, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). They included the issuing of military orders imposing specific sanctions on those responsible for underage recruitment, the strengthening of age-verification procedures and issuance of national identification cards, the development of child-specific release and reintegration programmes, and unimpeded, regular United Nations access to training centres, recruitment camps and military bases.
Responding to a series of questions about “bacha boy”, or “boy play”, reportedly taking place in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that so-called “dancing boys” remained a key concern of the United Nations. It was a practice whereby very powerful warlords and regional commanders, as well as anti-Government forces had young boys taught to dance in a party situation and then sexually exploited, she explained, calling attention to a recent documentary aired on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS Television) from 20 April 2010. The practice was particularly worrying because some military commanders and warlords measured their power by the number of boys they possessed and paraded them about, she added, noting with interest that everyone, including Governments, civil society, the media and even the Taliban, voiced moral opposition to the practice but it continued with impunity.
Asked how widespread the practice was, particularly in Afghanistan, she said people had told her it was “very widespread, but nobody wants to talk about it”. Powerful people in society actually “show their status by having these boys”, she reiterated, adding that prosecutions were needed to halt the practice.
Pressed as to whether the Taliban’s vocal opposition meant they did not engage in the practice, she said they were “verbally” opposed, but there had been reports of commanders “actually engaged” in it.
Asked to cite instances in which United Nations peacekeepers had engaged underage fighters or activists for any reason, she said youth factions were always a matter of concern, and expressed hope that the peacekeepers would use minimum force and not harm children in any way. In Côte d’Ivoire, all groups allegedly recruiting and using children had been listed and then de-listed in the Secretary-General’s report, she said, also expressing concern about allegations that children had been raped and subjected to other sexual violence.
To a follow-up question about the practices of peacekeepers with young activists in conflict areas, she said her Office had not been directly informed of any particular incident. How one dealt with a child shooting at one was unclear in international law; it was argued that retaliation should only be in self-defence. She said that, while it was not clear where the law stood, she hoped peacekeepers would follow that advice and not direct any aggression against any child.
As for the use of child pirates in and around Somalia, she said she had visited Somalia and engaged with underage pirates in Puntland, where children were clearly being used for criminal activities. However, her Office had argued that the children should not be prosecuted as adults. While that was not a United Nations position per se, it was “a position of ours”, she added.
Concerning implementation of United Nations action plans against the recruitment and use of children in conflict by non-State actors, she said there were those who did not recruit children, and those who did, such as Al-Qaida and the Taliban. There was also a whole range of non-State actors “in the middle” who, when listed, became worried because they saw themselves as future leaders and did not wish to be blacklisted. “So we can leverage that and use it to our advantage,” she said.
* *** *For information media • not an official record