Among the many horrible crimes committed in situations of armed conflict, one that leaves an indelible mark on the future is violence and abuse against children, particularly girls, in armed conflict. It is not enough to make statements or to enact new international legal norms. We must act forcefully and effectively. The situations described in the report of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict 2008 are very telling. Today, in thirty-six conflicts around the globe, children are being brutalized and are being callously used to advance the agendas of adults. It has been estimated that over two million children have been killed in armed conflicts; another six million have been rendered permanently disabled; more than 250,000 children continue to be exploited as child soldiers.
The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, though children are also used in the Americas, Europe and Middle East. Children of both sexes are trained as front-line fighters and are also used for support duties. Girls are extremely vulnerable: they may be kidnapped for use as “wives”. Children are often treated brutally and punishments for making mistakes or attempted escape are severe. They may also be injured or even killed during harsh training regimes. The widespread availability of modern lightweight weapons enables children to become efficient killers in combat. They are also often used for special tasks such as mine clearance or burning villages. Committing atrocities against their own families and communities is often part of their training, which ensures cutting the children’s home ties.
Some children are recruited forcibly; others are driven into armed forces by poverty, alienation, discrimination and frustration or by experience of abuse at the hands of authorities. Both governments and armed groups use children, as they are easy to condition for fearless killing and unthinking obedience. The very places that should be the safe havens for children — their schools and hospitals — are increasingly becoming the prime targets of attack by armed parties. In many situations, parties, to conflict systematically, deny humanitarian agencies access to territories under their control, with devastating consequences for civilian populations and especially children. In addition, the scourge of landmines claims the lives of estimated 8,000 to 10,000 children each year. In Cambodia, two young children, Kou Ya and Sia Ya (ages 4 and 6), were leading a herd of buffalo to pasture in a field. They noticed a round object in a ditch, and thinking it looked like the ball that Cambodian boys and girls toss during their New Year’s festival they picked it up. However, the small metal object was actually a bomb. When they threw it into the air it exploded, killing them both and wounding a passing bicyclist. Widespread rape or other grave sexual violence continues to be committed in virtually every conflict situation and can take the form of sexual slavery, forced prostitution, sexual mutilation or other forms of brutality. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a climate of impunity has resulted in rampant sexual violence, with children representing an alarming 33 per cent of victims. Gender based violence often leads to severe and long-lasting health problems, including early pregnancies, fistula, infections, HIV/AIDS and psychological trauma. Rape victims and children born as a result of rape are often marginalized. In Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, children born of rape are at times referred to as “children of hate” and at times even “the enemy’s children”.There are indications also that the trafficking of children in and from conflict zones is becoming a growing transnational trend, linked to elaborate international criminal networks. Such networks often fuel conflicts by facilitating the conversion of natural resources such as diamonds, coltan and timber into the very means and tools of war that have led to the increase in victimization and participation of children in conflict. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948), Declaration on the Rights of Child(1959), Convention on the Rights of Child(1989),ILO Convention 182 (1999) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict(2002), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002), African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child (1999), Geneva Conventions (1949) and Additional Protocol I & Additional Protocol II (1977),Security Council resolution 1261 (1999), 1314 (2000), 1379 (2001), 1460 (2003), 1539 (2004), 1612 (2005) and the Paris Principles (2007) are some of the instruments put in place by the United Nations in order to combat this problem. Yet, unfortunately, these instruments of the United Nations would remain pointless unless individual countries actually implement them.The United States is one of the only countries which has not ratified the Convention on the Rights Of Child and continues to support juvenile execution. The international community must realise that by saving the children of today, we are saving the citizens of tomorrow & must come together to achieve this end. Mitali Nikore[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pingnews/499011237/]