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Armed Conflict

Today, grave violations are taking place against children and youth in over twenty war-affected countries. As primary victims of armed conflict, young people experience many forms of suffering. They are killed, maimed, orphaned, abducted, deprived of education and health care, and left with deep emotional and physical scars. While girls and women are disproportionately targeted, boys and men are also sexually violated in conflict situations.

They also suffer from other consequences of conflict such as poverty, unemployment, little education, poor governance and the disintegration of families and communities.

"Universal ratification of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict will establish an international moral consensus that no child should take part in hostilities or be involuntarily recruited and that former child soldiers should be assisted by their governments after a life of violence and distress." Statement by Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, 2010

Children and youth are uniquely vulnerable to involuntary military recruitment. Hundreds of thousands are associated with armed forces, including those of non-State actors. Young people’s participation in conflict has serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being. The changing nature of conflict directly impacts children as war tactics include their use as suicide bombers. Furthermore, systematic attacks are waged on schools. Counter-terrorism strategies can result in collateral damage, including youth casualties.

Grace Akallo, former child soldier of Uganda, participates in the Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict.

Grace Akallo, former child soldier of Uganda, participates in the Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict.

Former child soldier Grace Akallo, from Uganda, recounted the experience as "the worst thing that could happen to any young person. Not only does it destroy childhood, but what's worse, it destroys the future. Abducted when they are supposed to be in school, instead of learning math, they are forced to learn how to shoot an AK-47. They are forced to become killers or rapists. When, and if, they eventually return, they are left to deal with their guilt in a society that does not accept them. Personally, I was one of the lucky ones. While I escaped after 7 cruel months, many of my friends did not. Some were killed, others suffered from sexual abuse that resulted in unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS. Their experience is beyond suffering."

To break cycles of violence and re-build lives, rehabilitation and reintegration are particularly critical for children and youth formerly associated with armed groups. After an existence of conflict and distress, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes must build on individuals’ strengths and resilience. Youth should be consulted in this process, with issues, such as the specific needs of girls, explicitly addressed. A survivor’s vitality must be reinforced by government, international organizations and civil society.