NEW YORK, 20 January 2004—Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF today condemned the appalling violations of the rights of children in times of war. Addressing the annual Security Council meeting on children in armed conflict, she called on Council members to work harder to end the use of child soldiers, the killing and maiming of children, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, and sexual violence against boys and girls.
The session follows a report by the Secretary-General condemning state and non-government factions that are currently using child soldiers. The report of the Secretary-General outlines some of the worst abuses committed against children in dozens of countries around the world.
The problem is immense. For example, in Liberia, there are an estimated 15,000 child soldiers. A recent survey in Sierra Leone indicated that in 17% of displaced households there are reports of sexual assaults, including rape, torture and sexual slavery. In 2003 alone, 82 countries were affected by landmines.
“From Congo to Liberia, from Sri Lanka to Colombia, girls and boys continue to suffer the brutality of war,” said Bellamy. “When the lives and fundamental rights of children are at stake, there must be no silent witnesses.”
Bellamy also noted another appalling form of abuse occurring in times of conflict: the routine targeting and sexual exploitation of girls through rape, prostitution, trafficking, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery.
“I recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo where I saw the devastating impact of sexual violence,” said Bellamy. “I visited hospitals with rows and rows of beds filled with girls and women suffering the gravest injuries from rape. This past year, we’ve seen once again that rape is being used as a weapon of war and as a means to terrorize and destroy communities.”
UNICEF has a long history of assisting and protecting children in times of conflict:
In Afghanistan, UNICEF and its partners are supporting a community-based demobilization and reintegration programme that will reach 8,000 child soldiers and give them tools to start lives outside of war.
In Liberia, UNICEF used some unconventional methods to distribute school materials. These included teachers using wheelbarrows to collect their school supplies, and a fleet of outboard canoes to reach river villages. Some 20,000 teachers were trained, and about 3,700 schools were rehabilitated..
In Democratic Republic of Congo, UNICEF supports a network of community women who reach out to survivors of rape, offering them health care, psychological support, and opportunities for income generation. UNICEF is also providing support to several hospitals to provide comprehensive and compassionate care to rape survivors.
Bellamy noted that a critical component is the provision of a "protective environment" for demobilized child soldiers—one that includes effective strategies to prevent their re-recruitment, long-term investment in education, vocational training, and support for families and communities. She added that reintegration programs must take into account the specific needs of girls, who suffer from extraordinary violence as sex slaves, porters, servants, and, at times, as combatants.
On the occasion of this Security Council debate, UNICEF and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers released a Guide to the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. This guide will enable child protection advocates, government officials, ordinary citizens and children themselves to take specific actions at the local, national and international levels to help to put an end to the use of children as soldiers.