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Ending armed recruitment and sexual exploitation is not an “option”

UNICEF hosted a special event today to commemorate the 10th anniversary of two critical agreements on international child protection. The protocols to protect children from sexual exploitation and from enforced combat have been adopted by more than 130 U.N. member states — including the U.S.– but Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the audience and press at UNICEF that he wanted to see universal ratification by 2012.


Afghanistan - Mohammad Amin, 18, a former child soldier, looks at the countryside from atop the crumbling roof of a barracks in the village of Bagram on the Shomali Plain in the Central Region province of Parwan.
UNICEF/NYHQ2004-0654/Kate Brooks
Afghanistan – Mohammad Amin, 18, a former child soldier, looks at the countryside from atop the crumbling roof of a barracks in the village of Bagram on the Shomali Plain in the Central Region province of Parwan.

Here here! Who will argue that every member of the United Nations should make a commitment to prevent the use of children as spies, soldiers, or human shields by all means available? Of course every nation must punish to the full extent of the law those who would prostitute, traffic or otherwise exploit our children! By all means, let’s get the 50-odd states that haven’t ratified the children in armed conflict protocol and the nearly 60 states that haven’t moved against the sale of children to prove their commitments to these fundamental human rights.

And then let’s get to work on the name of these baseline treaties: the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (emphasis my own).

Last week, the Security Council received an annual report on the global landscape of children in armed conflict. For the first time, the report singled out persistent violators who recruit children and specific parties who killed, maimed and raped children as part of a battle-plan.

There were 25 entities on that list alone. And that was using “a conservative approach,” according to the report.

The Special Representative to the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is a tough lady and an effective advocate. This past year she helped bring about action plans ending recruitment of child soldiers and release of current child combatants with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. Burundi has now been declared child-soldier free. This is great news. But at UNICEF we are particularly aware that putting pen to paper is only the first step. National governments must address the many underlying factors that breed exploitation … including poverty, gender equality and education.

Getting all member states to commit to the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child by 2012 is a great goal. Ensuring that compliance is not Optional is a better one.

UNICEF hosted a special event today to commemorate the 10th anniversary of two critical agreements on international child protection. The protocols to protect children from sexual exploitation and from enforced combat have been adopted by more than 130 U.N. member states — including the U.S, which has not ratified the full Convention on the Rights of the Child (more on that here). Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the audience and press at UNICEF that he wanted to see universal ratification by 2012.


Afghanistan - Mohammad Amin, 18, a former child soldier, looks at the countryside from atop the crumbling roof of a barracks in the village of Bagram on the Shomali Plain in the Central Region province of Parwan.
UNICEF/NYHQ2004-0654/Kate Brooks
Afghanistan – Mohammad Amin, 18, a former child soldier, looks at the countryside from atop the crumbling roof of a barracks in the village of Bagram on the Shomali Plain in the Central Region province of Parwan.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said at the event: “The Optional Protocols represent a promise made to the world’s most vulnerable children – children born into extreme poverty and despair, children in countries torn apart by conflict and children forced into unimaginable servitude by adults who regard them as commodities. Two thirds of the world’s nations have ratified the protocols, but to fully honor the promise they represent, we need universal ratification and implementation.”

Here here! Who will argue that every member of the United Nations should make a commitment to prevent the use of children as spies, soldiers, or human shields by all means available? Of course every nation must punish to the full extent of the law those who would prostitute, traffic or otherwise exploit our children! By all means, let’s get the 50-odd states that haven’t ratified the children in armed conflict protocol and the nearly 60 states that haven’t moved against the sale of children to prove their commitments to these fundamental human rights.

And then let’s get to work on the name of these baseline treaties: the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (emphasis my own). Universal ratification is one step – but not the last step. Even in countries that ratified the Optional Protocols, there is much to do to make sure that they actually implement their provisions – that part is not optional!

Last week, the Security Council received an annual report on the global landscape of children in armed conflict. For the first time, the report singled out persistent violators who recruit children and specific parties who killed, maimed and raped children as part of a battle-plan.

There were 25 entities on that list alone. And that was using “a conservative approach,” according to the report.

The Special Representative to the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is a tough lady and an effective advocate. This past year she helped bring about action plans ending recruitment of child soldiers and release of current child combatants with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. Burundi has now been declared child-soldier free. This is great news. But at UNICEF we are particularly aware that putting pen to paper is only the first step. National governments must address the many underlying factors that breed exploitation … including poverty, gender equality and education.

Getting all member states to commit to the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child by 2012 is a great goal. Ensuring that compliance is not Optional is a better one.

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