Much still to do to protect children from armed conflict, warns UNICEF chief

Veneman with a former child soldier at Paris conference

5 February 2007 – More must be done to protect the 250,000 or so children caught up in conflict worldwide, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today at the start of a conference in France aimed at stamping out the practice of child recruitment and other violations of children’s rights in times of fighting.

Participants at the Paris conference, which is being hosted by UNICEF and France, are from countries directly affected by children in armed conflict as well as from donor States, the agency said in a press release. They will discuss a new set of commitments and principles to end recruitment of children and to demobilize and reintegrate those who have been involved with armed groups and forces.

“An estimated 250,000 children are involved in conflicts around the world. They are used as combatants, messengers, spies, porters, cooks, and girls in particular are forced to perform sexual services, depriving them of their rights and their childhood,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.

“We have a shared commitment to help children caught in the wars of adults and to protect, release and reintegrate child soldiers. We have made strides in bringing children from battlefields back to their communities and classrooms, but much remains to be done.”

Several UN resolutions and international legal standards have been agreed to over the last decade to address this issue, but many gaps remain. The Free Children from War conference will help identify opportunities to better support children affected by armed conflict.

Last week, after completing a week-long visit to Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah urged all parties in the Sudanese conflict to commit to ending child recruitment and immediately release any children associated with their forces.

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