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Child soldiers caught in armed conflict

The situation for children caught in conflict remains "grave and entirely unacceptable" according to a senior U.N. official. Reportedly  58 groups in 13 countries recruit and use child soldiers. NBC's Ann Curry reports from the Congo.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The situation for children caught in conflict remains "grave and entirely unacceptable" because 58 groups in 13 countries still recruit and use child soldiers, according to a senior U.N. official.

Undersecretary-General Radhika Coomaraswamy told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that in addition to being pressed into service, children in several countries are also killed, maimed, abducted and raped and denied access to humanitarian groups.

She cited a recent report from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict that named 58 groups in 13 countries "responsible for the recruitment and use of child soldiers."

The 13 countries where groups that recruit child soldiers operate are Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Myanmar, Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Colombia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda, according to the report.

Coomaraswamy noted that 16 "persistent violators" have been on a list of groups that perpetrate these crimes for five years and urged the Security Council to "make good on its promise" to take concrete and targeted measures against these offenders.

In 2005, the council passed a resolution establishing a group to monitor and report on countries and groups using child soldiers. Coomaraswamy, the top U.N. envoy on children and armed conflict, said the monitoring has produced results, but that more needed to be done.

Legal action has been taken against recruiters of child soldiers in Congo and there have been several convictions in Sierra Leone, she said.

Ivory Coast has been taken off the list of offenders altogether because of actions it has taken, including the release to UNICEF of about 3,000 child fighters.

"In spite of the impressive progress, I regret to report that the overall situation of children affected by conflict remains grave and entirely unacceptable," Coomaraswamy said.

She urged the Security Council, charged with investigating the use of child soldiers, to expand its focus to other issues affecting youngsters, starting with systematic sexual violence.

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country heads the monitoring group, backed Coomaraswamy's recommendations, saying council members "must not shrink from the adoption of strong, targeted measures against parties that fail to comply with its recommendations."

"Its credibility is at stake," he said. "There is no credible deterrence without real sanctions."

A council statement read at the end of a daylong meeting on children and armed conflict expressed readiness to review the provisions of its resolutions on the issue,  but it made no mention of adopting targeted measures against violators, or expanding the monitoring group's activities to compiling data on rape and sexual violence.

The council expressed concern at "the widespread and systematic use of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, in particular girls, in situations of armed conflict" and called on all parties to take special measures to protect girls and boys from sexual and gender-based violence.