From Afghanistan to Sudan, from the Philippines to the Central African Republic, there are more than 20 situations listed in the United Nations Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict detailing the use of girls and boys as soldiers — slinging AK-47s and forced to murder before they are old enough to understand death.
To make matters worse, war itself has changed and cruel tactical innovations have developed as a result. Children are made to strap suicide vests on their tiny bodies and sent into crowds where, if they falter, an adult can remotely detonate the devices. Beyond soldiering, children are often collateral damage as the result of air strikes or heavy combat amongst the civilian population. If they survive, many are left behind as orphans or burdened with permanent psychological scars.
While this bleak picture is the reality, we are not without hope. I’ve met these children. I have heard their stories. Their incredible resilience after years of war, disruption of their education, rejection from their villages, is astounding.
As the special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the responsibility falls on my office and others to speak on their behalf, but also to confront commanders in conflict and secure the release of child soldiers and children used as sex slaves and sometimes are forced to be combatants.
Progress has been made. UN staff have traveled to remote, war-torn areas and secured the release of all children from the Maoists in Nepal and entered into a road map with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, who are now on the path towards to compliance with their commitments to release children from their forces. Several parties in Sudan are about to release their children.
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