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Recruiters of Child Soldiers Face U.N. Sanctions

Beatrice Paez

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2010 (IPS) - Individuals and armed groups that are considered repeat offenders in the recruitment and use of child soldiers may soon be subject to United Nations sanctions.

“They are moving toward using the existing sanctions committees to deal with sanctions against these persistent violators,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the secretary-general on children and armed conflict, at a press briefing following an open debate at the Security Council on Wednesday.

A presidential statement issued by Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller expressed the Council’s “readiness to adopt targeted and graduated measures against persistent perpetrators”.

Sanctions against groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo “might move ahead, that seems to be the sanctions committee most active on this issue”, Coomaraswamy told IPS.

Among the persistent violators identified by the U.N. are 16 insurgent groups from countries that include the Philippines, Colombia, Sudan, and the DRC. These non-state actors have an opportunity to be de-listed if they enter into action plans with the United Nations.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist have signed onto these agreements. The action plan facilitates the release and the rehabilitation of children in armed conflict.

The tactic of “naming and shaming” and the threat of sanctions are aimed at convincing parties to enter into and comply with the action plan. Groups seeking legitimacy internationally and those that hope for a national leadership role often choose this avenue, like the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) which was de-listed last year. Still, the endemic use of children in armed conflict persists, especially in Somalia.

Within countries implementing the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), over 9,500 children have been removed from armed groups. This number excludes the 3,000 people recruited as minors released in Nepal just last January and February.

Breakthroughs have also been made with the addition of two triggers for listing grave violations such as sexual violence and the killing and maiming of children.

No accurate figures on child soldiers or children associated with insurgent groups exist because the MRM captures the situation only in areas covered by the Security Council. Tracking global trends is even more difficult with the lack of documentation on recruitment, said Hilde Johnson, UNICEF’s deputy executive director.

There have been situations where children were released en masse as part of peace agreements. But Coomaraswamy told IPS that, “We prefer the action plan route – that means children come to us and we can help them in reintegration and rehabilitation.”

Otherwise, children are not under the framework for rehabilitation programmes and follow-up activities, she noted.

The road to reintegration into the community is more difficult for women who are recruited as soldiers and who may have killed people in the village. “Society has a hard time dealing with them, especially in Nepal, where women are supposed to be docile,” Coomaraswamy explained.

Manju Gurung, a former Nepalese child soldier, spoke before the Security Council Wednesday on the difficulties of community reintegration. “In the village, everyone continued to show suspicion towards me and to talk behind my back,” she said.

At age 13, Gurung was forced to join the Maoist guerrilla army under the “One Family, One Member” campaign. Five years later, she is continuing her education and has had assistance in forming a group to advocate for the rights of children and HIV issues.

The last group of Maoist child soldiers was discharged in February, but the secretary-general’s recent report on Nepal noted the importance of monitoring the activities of youth groups that recruit children for involvement in violent protests. These groups, affiliated with political parties and movements, continue to proliferate, it said.

Youth wings affiliated with political movements and groups that engage in violent protests are not subject to the same protocol as insurgent groups that misuse children for their political agenda.

“This is more of a grey area…we are not opposed to children having political opinions, taking part in political activities,” Coomaraswamy said.

The situation is being monitored by her office and UNICEF and the approach may be revisited if these groups devolve into situations of violence.

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