Children still used in most contemporary armed conflicts by state armed forces and non-state armed groups

London, 12 June 2013 - Children continue to be recruited and used, sometimes systematically, in all regions where armed conflicts are active, according to the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict that will be presented to the Security Council next Monday.

The UN Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict mentions a range of armed forces, paramilitaries, militias and armed opposition groups which recruited or used children in hostilities in 2012. The first six months of 2013 offer little in the way of progress from that bleak picture, with reports of child soldiers fighting in most active armed conflicts, including Central African Republic, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali, Myanmar and Syria.

Children are recruited and used by armed opposition groups such as the “M23” in eastern DRC, the “Seleka” coalition in Central African Republic, the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria. Some armed groups listed in the annexes of the UN Secretary-General’s report continue to recruit and use children despite voluntary commitments to end the practice.

”Contrary to common perception, it is not only armed groups that recruit and use children. State armed forces and security forces continue to unlawfully deploy children in hostilities; and governments continue to support and fight alongside a range of militias that recruit and use children. This is despite repeated commitments from states and high levels of adherence to international standards that prohibit the use of children in hostilities”, said Richard Clarke, director of Child Soldiers International.

Armed forces of Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and South Sudan continue to recruit and use children despite having signed action plans with the UN to stop doing so.

Child Soldiers International has reported underage recruitment by the Chadian armed forces in 2012 – a direct consequence of the failure of the Chadian government to take all necessary steps, included in the UN Action Plan signed in June 2011, to prevent future enlistment of children. In light of these concerns, it is particularly troubling that Chadian troops deployed in Mali are expected to be integrated into the envisaged UN peacekeeping mission there. While efforts have now been intensified to identify and prevent recruitment of children by the Chadian armed forces, Child Soldiers International remains concerned that the UN may allow a party currently listed for recruitment and use of children to substantially contribute troops to a peacekeeping operation.

In Myanmar, recent research conducted by Child Soldiers International shows that a persistent emphasis on increasing troop numbers - accompanied by corruption, weak oversight and impunity - has historically led to high rates of child recruitment in the army. Despite the signing of the action plan in June 2012, recruitment of children in the army is ongoing. Further, restrictions imposed by the Myanmar military on the UN Country Task Force’s access to military sites has stymied the effective monitoring of verification and release of children from the army, while the UN has not yet been able to access Border Guard Forces, or begin negotiations with armed opposition groups to release children in their ranks.

“The examples of Chad and Myanmar point at the need to consider the signing of action plans as the beginning – rather than the end – of national processes designed to prevent child recruitment and use. The end of an armed conflict, or the decrease in verified cases of child recruitment do not signal the end of the problem: the risk remains for children to be involved in current or future conflicts”, said Richard Clarke, director of Child Soldiers International.

Legal, policy and practical preventative measures are required to address this risk. Child Soldiers International identified some of these measures in the Ten-Point Checklist to prevent the involvement of children in hostilities in state armed forces and state-allied armed groups published last year.

The Checklist includes accountability measures to bring to justice those responsible of child recruitment and use in line with existing obligations under international law. However, despite undeniable progresses of the international justice mechanisms, accountability at the national level for those suspected of recruiting or using children remains elusive. In this regard, Child Soldiers International regrets that countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal, with well-documented records of persistent impunity on grave violations against children, are no longer mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report. Such omission leaves no international scrutiny on the accountability for child rights violations in these countries, and it does not sit well with the often repeated commitments by the UN Security Council to ensure that alleged perpetrators of grave crimes against children are brought to justice.

Background

The UN Secretary-General’s 12th annual report on children and armed conflict was submitted to the UN Security Council, pursuant to Security Council resolution 2068 (2012). The report covers the period from January to December 2012. The report lists (in two annexes) parties to armed conflicts who recruited or used children in hostilities or committed other grave violations against children (killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, attacks on schools and/or hospitals).