The United Nations has launched its global campaign "Children, not soldiers" to prevent children from being recruited or used as soldiers in conflict areas.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message Thursday that although thousands of children have been released from armed groups, thousands more were still part of such groups. He asked all governments and NGOs to work with the UN to intensify efforts to meet the goal of zero use of children by any government forces by 2016.
More than 250,000 children under 18 are fighting in both government armies and armed opposition groups. Some children are kidnapped or forced to serve; others join hoping to find food and shelter, help their families, or improve their lives.
More than 6,000 child soldiers may now be involved in the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN said.
The use of children to fight adults' wars is not limited to a single country or continent, but has become a worldwide problem. The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, though children are also used as soldiers by governments and armed groups in many countries in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.
“The recruitment and use of children by armed forces must end,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, adding that ‘Children, Not Soldiers’ can give this issue more of the focus and attention it deserves.
“When we help a former child soldier overcome such a terrible experience and prepare for a new future, we do more than mend a broken life. We begin to bind the wounds of a nation torn by conflict,” he stated.
The launch of the campaign was hosted by Jean Asselborn, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg, which in January 2013 assumed the presidency of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict for a two-year mandate.
“By having to take part in hostilities, by being compelled to become instruments of war, the most fundamental rights of children are violated: their right to life, to health, to education, to protection from physical or mental violence,” said Mr. Asselborn.
With inputs from UN News Centre