LONDON (AlertNet) - Although it is a war crime to conscript or use child soldiers under age 15 in active hostilities, the practice continues in at least 19 countries, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, citing the charity Child Soldiers International.
Amnesty has documented the recent use or allegations of use of child soldiers in Mali, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Somalia, and Yemen. As well as perpetrating human rights abuses themselves, many child soldiers are killed, maimed or become victims of rape and other sexual violence.
Poorly regulated weapons sales continue to contribute to the use of boys and girls in hostilities by armed groups and government forces, despite the protective Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child agreed by 150 countries, the rights group said in a statement issued to mark International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.
A strong Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) – on which final talks are due at the United Nations in March -- would help to end the forced recruitment of child soldiers by stopping the flow of arms to governments and armed groups that abuse human rights, Amnesty said.
“The Arms Trade Treaty must require governments to prevent arms transfers that would be used to commit violence against children and include rules to stem the flow of weapons into the hands of the government forces and armed groups responsible for war crimes or grave abuses of human rights,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty’s head of arms control and human rights.
The current draft rules to respect existing international human rights law and humanitarian law could be circumvented – the rule on violence against children requires the state only to “consider taking feasible measures” and rules to prevent the diversion of arms are weak, and do not cover ammunition, the statement said.
The group wants the rule in the ATT to require states to prevent arms transfers that pose a danger of contributing to violence against children, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
CONCERNS OVER MALI CONFLICT
In Mali, Amnesty delegates have interviewed eyewitnesses as well as children recruited by the Islamist armed groups fighting Malian and French forces in the north.
Amnesty’s research in Mali “has revealed once more the horrors faced by child soldiers who are being recruited in numerous conflicts around the world…” Wood said.
In the city of Diabaly, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, several people, including the deputy mayor, reported seeing children aged between 10 and 17 with the Islamist armed groups that had taken control of the area, the statement said.
“These children were carrying rifles. One of them was so small that his rifle was sometimes dragging on the ground,” an eyewitness told Amnesty.
In Ségou, delegates met two child soldiers, one showing signs of mental illness, who were turned over to the Malian authorities after French and Malian troops re-conquered Diabaly in late January.
One, aged 16, told Amnesty about his forcible recruitment and training by the Islamists:
“I used to study with 23 other pupils with a Koranic Master. Two months ago, the grandson of my master sold us to the Islamists. We joined a group of 14 other young people carrying firearms. At the beginning, I was asked to work in the kitchen. We used to cook in a Christian church occupied by the Islamists. The rebels would beat us [with a rubber belt] during Koran lessons because …they wanted us to pronounce Arabic like them.
“They trained us to shoot, aiming at the heart or feet. Before the fighting, we had to eat rice mixed with a white powder and a sauce with a red powder. We also had injections. I had three. After these injections and eating the rice mixed with powder, I would turn like a motor vehicle, I could do anything for my masters. I regarded our enemies as dogs and all that was in my mind was to shoot them.”
Amnesty said four child soldiers were killed during the fighting for Diabaly in January.