|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman with actress Jennifer Connelly, one of the stars of ‘Blood Diamond’, at the screening in New York.|
By Anwulika Okafor
NEW YORK, USA, 1 December 2006 – Forced into armed combat in Sierra Leone during the 1990s, a young boy has been transformed into a soldier. His father struggles to free him from the dangerous life he has been pushed into.
This is the story of two characters in the film ‘Blood Diamond’, which was screened last night at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou in lead roles, the movie shows the kinds of experiences that children face in conflicts around the world.
“I feel like it is one of the most powerful human stories,” said Mr. Hounsou, discussing the personal impact the film had on him. He added that ‘Blood Diamond’ was “shining the light on child soldiers.”
“A movie like this tells the story very graphically, very explicitly in ways that people who read stories in newspapers can’t see,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, who attended the screening.
Children in armed conflict
There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers worldwide. Some of these children have been forced to join military factions, while others have enlisted to escape poverty, abuse and discrimination – or to avenge the wrongs done to their own families.
|© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Bowers|
|Three child soldiers stand in line during a demobilization ceremony in Sudan.|
More than 2 million children have died as a result of armed conflict since 1990, with more than 6 million seriously injured or disabled. At the same time, conflicts have forced more than 20 million children to live as refugees in other countries or to be displaced within their own borders.
In 2002, the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict called upon all nations to outlaw the use of children under 18 in combat. In the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the protocol provided a legal framework to prevent the further abduction or enlistment of children into armed conflict.
Building a protective environment
UNICEF works with these children to demobilize them and return them to society. Many former child soldiers have lasting emotional scars and struggle to be reintegrated into their communities. Through counselling, education and follow-up visits, UNICEF and its partners have successfully built a protective environment to ease the transition for them.
At the ‘Blood Diamond’ screening, Ms. Veneman underscored the importance of helping former child soldiers regain a sense of normalcy in their lives.
“Just like any young person, they have hopes and dreams and aspirations,” she said.
Coping with a legacy of violence in Sierra Leone [with video]
Former child soldiers still at risk in Côte d’Ivoire [with video]
Fact sheet on child soldiers
(PDF, opens in a new window)