The UN Security Council, currently chaired by Germany, has unanimously endorsed a resolution against recruiting underage soldiers; it also aims to protect children in conflict zones, and condemns attacks on the young.
Most child soldiers worldwide fight for rebel groups
The UN Security Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a new resolution that condemns the recrutiment of child soldiers and any attacks or abuse against children or places where young people congregate, like schools or hospitals.
The signatories in their document "call upon member states concerned to take decisive and immediate action against persistent perpetrators of violence and abuses committed against children in situations of armed conflict, and further call upon them to bring to justice those responsible for such violations."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in New York that the resolution - introduced by the current president of the Security Council, Germany - is the eighth since 1998 to condemn countries, militaries or militia which either use children to wage war, or subject them to torment or violence.
"Let us keep working together to ensure that children everywhere can grow up safe, healthy and educated so they can build a secure and sustainable future," Ban said.
First challenge for UN's next member
South Sudan, which declared its independence on Saturday, is expected to become the 193rd member state of the United Nations this week. But decades of civil war have left their mark. In South Sudan, the impact of war on children is evident, said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
"Schools and schoolchildren were systematically targeted during the conflict. South Sudan has today the world's lowest primary school enrollment rates," Bokova said. Teenage girls were more likely to die in childbirth than complete their schooling and only eight percent of women are literate, she said.
"No country better illustrates the importance of the right to education," Bokova said.
Staying off the black list
The worldwide figures are alarming. UNESCO estimates that between 1998 and 2008, a total of two million children were killed in armed conflicts, six million were severely injured. Some 300,000 children are forced to work as soldiers and sexual violence is systematically employed around the globe.
Yet children have been under the protection of the world community for over 20 years. The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. It incorporates six crimes against children, which should be viewed as war crimes according to international law. These include deploying children as soldiers, as well as killing or sexually abusing children.
Rebel armies around the world are robbing children's lives
A party who commits these crimes can be put on a black list by the UN Security Council. It sounds harmless, but can by all means have an impact, said Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the UN.
"It's a disgrace for the countries, governments and rebel groups which are on this list," Wittig said. "They want to get off the list."
One example of this is Afghanistan. Wittig has just led a delegation to the country. There, one could see that the Afghan government was undertaking serious efforts to improve the protection of children, he said.
Pressure can pay off
In order to come off the list, the affected countries have to approve an action plan and implement it. According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 15 action plans in nine conflict zones have been adopted. Two more are expected by the end of the year.
"These successes show the great value of naming and shaming," Ban said. "The recent signature of action plans in Chad and Afghanistan provide further examples." He commended the efforts of Chad's government to address the recruitment and use of children by its armed forces in line with the Security Council Resolution 1612.
"Once the action plan is implemented, Chad will be removed from the list of shame and from the agenda of the Security Council working group," Ban said. He encouraged other governments to follow suit: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma and Sudan, as well as the transitional government of Somalia.
Schools and other educational facilities should be off-limits to attacks
Better protection for schools and hospitals
The latest resolution is by no means unique, but its specific goal is to proscribe a further crime. Attacks on schools and hospitals are now a reason to place a country or war party on the black list.
Now the resolution has passed, the UN Security Council is empowered to impose further measures in the form of sanctions in these cases. However, this is done far too seldom, said NGO representatives, such as Eva Smets, Director of the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict.
According to Smets, there have to date only been two occasions where specific measures have been taken: a couple of years ago in Ivory Coast and more recently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not all countries and conflict parties are impressed by the black list, she said.
"Interestingly in last year's report of the Secretary-General, there was a list included of the so-called persistent perpetrators," Smets said. "On that list, there were 16 armed forces and groups that had been included in the annexes of the Council of the Secretary-General's reports for five years or more. It was a very long list."
Nonetheless, children right's activists are not giving up hope. If the existing progress continues at this pace, there should at least be no more child soldiers in 25 years time.
Author: Christina Bergmann, New York / sac, msh
Editor: Rob Mudge, Michael Lawton