Press Releases

    8 May 2002

    "Use of Child Combatants Will Carry Consequences", Secretary-General Tells Event on Child Soldiers

    NEW YORK, 7 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following are remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the "Reclaiming Our Children" event on child soldiers, held today in advance of the General Assembly special session on children in New York:

    Let me start by congratulating Olara Otunnu on holding this event. The plight of child soldiers is an issue that concerns all of us, wherever we may live. If ever there was a time to remind the world of its responsibility to address this problem, surely it is on the eve of the General Assembly's special session on children.

    Over the past few years, the world has increasingly woken up to the exploitation of children as combatants. Conflicts such as the one in Sierra Leone have registered deeply in the consciousness -- and the conscience -- of the world.

    We must build on that awareness to take action and bring help to this despicable and damaging practice and to end it. Those who practice this form of child abuse must be held accountable.

    If there is any lesson we can draw from the experience of the past decade, it is that the use of child soldiers is far more than a humanitarian concern; that its impact lasts far beyond the time of actual fighting; and that the scope of the problem vastly exceeds the numbers of children directly involved.

    The roots of this practice reflect several tragic developments -- from the brutal targeting of civilians in armed conflict to the breakdown of the family unit, often the strongest pillar of many of the societies affected.

    The recruitment of wave after wave of untrained child soldiers allows the parties to keep conflicts going almost indefinitely -- often escalating them until they become regional or international problems and threaten the peace in whole regions.

    The physical and psychological effects on the children involved are long term and devastating -- ranging from loss of limbs to greater risk of infection with HIV/AIDS, from emotional damage to rejection and reprisals by their own communities. Even disarmed, these soldiers are deeply scarred, and often pose a danger to society.

    That, in turn, presents huge challenges to the society affected and to the international community -- rendering yet more difficult the work for peace and development after the ravages of conflict.

    That is why we are here today. For far too long, the use of child soldiers has been seen as merely regrettable. We are here to ensure it is recognized as intolerable. Even on the battlefield, there are minimal norms of conduct that must be upheld.

    We are here to call on the international community to help address the impact of child soldiering, and to call on the parties in conflicts to take responsibility for demobilizing child soldiers, rehabilitating them and reintegrating them into society.

    We are here to put parties to conflict on notice that the use of child combatants will carry consequences. The Security Council -- and many of the members are here this afternoon with us -- has asked me to submit, by October this year, a list of parties to armed conflict that recruit or use children, in violation of their international obligations.

    We are here to call for the implementation of norms and standards to protect children during conflict, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    Finally, we are here to urge that rights of children be placed at the centre of peace negotiations and peace-building. I commend the Security Council for holding a meeting today devoted entirely to the subject of children and armed conflict.

    And I hope that delegates to the special session on children this week will send a clear signal to the world. Children are our future. To accept the use of child soldiers in conflict is to accept the destruction of our future, and we must fight for this future one child at a time. We must reclaim them -- every one of them. And it is serious business for all of us, and I am sure, with determination and pooling our efforts, we can do it. Thank you very much.

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