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United Nations: Ban Ki-moon Decries Increase in Child Soldiers

(June 10, 2016) The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, expressing shock at the marked increase in violations of children’s rights, has called for changes in law and policy to better protect young people. His concern was focused on the use of child soldiers in a number of countries, particularly Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. He stated “[m]ember states should consider, as a matter of priority, changes in policies, military procedures and legislation, where necessary, to prevent violations and protect children.” (Ban ‘Shocked’ at Scale of Grave Violations Against Children Detailed in Latest Report, UN NEWS CENTRE (June 3, 2016).)

Ban also commented on aerial operations by some Member States and other armed forces that result in the killing and injury of many children. (Id.) Ban noted that 2,829 children were casualties of armed conflicts last year and urged countries involved to stop the practices of recruiting, killing, kidnapping, and abusing young people. (Mark Casper, UN Chief Concerned over Increase in Military Recruitment and Death of Children, PAPER CHASE (June 3, 2016).)

His comments followed the release of an annual report to the United Nations on children and armed conflict covering the year 2015. (Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/70/836–S/2016/360 (Apr. 20, 2016), U.N. website.) The report focused on, among other nations, Yemen, where the number of children recruited into armed groups increased fivefold, and the number of them killed and injured was six times greater in 2015 than in 2014. (Ban ‘Shocked’ at Scale of Grave Violations Against Children Detailed in Latest Report, supra.) Ban also mentioned violations by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, sometimes called ISIS or Da’esh) that include use of boys as child soldiers, in fact and as images on social media, and even as executioners. A U.N. news report on the subject also discussed the use of girls as suicide bombers by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the thousands of children killed in the last five years of conflict in Syria. Afghanistan has a particularly high number of child war deaths and injuries. The rate of violations against children in Somalia increased 50%, and in South Sudan children were victims during what the United Nations described as “brutal military offensives.” (Id.)

Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, stated that she is “also gravely concerned by the increasing number of children deprived of liberty for their alleged association with parties to conflict.” (Id.) She asked that nations consider children in conflict regions to be primarily victims and to protect their rights, in part by using alternatives to detaining and prosecuting young people, and she praised efforts made to “ensure appropriate resources for the reintegration of all children released, with special attention given to psycho-social support and the needs of girls.” (Id.)

Background on Child Soldiers

Under U. N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) guidelines on children in combat:

“A child associated with an armed force or armed grouprefers to any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities. (The Paris Principles: Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups (Feb. 2007), § 2.1, UNICEF website.)

According to the nongovernmental organization Child Soldiers International, a group that describes its mission as “working to stop the use of child soldiers worldwide,” children have served as soldiers in most of the armed conflicts worldwide since 2000. Although exact data on the numbers involved is not available, the organization estimates that tens of thousands of young people, some under ten years of age, continue to take part in armed government and opposition units. (Who Are Child Soldiers?, Child Soldiers International website (last visited June 6, 2016).)