|On hand at the launch of the Network of Young People Affected by War at the United Nations in New York on 20 November were (from left) former child soldiers Ishmael Beah of Sierra Leone, Grace Akallo of Uganda and Kon Kelei of Sudan.|
By Roshni Karwal
NEW YORK, USA, 21 November 2008 – Ishmael Beah, Grace Akallo and Kon Kelie have all survived the experience of being child soldiers. By speaking out about their own suffering and unlikely survival, they have become powerful advocates for the plight of children in armed conflict.
Yesterday, all three were on hand as the world commemorated Universal Children’s Day and UNICEF welcomed the launch of a new group aiming to amplify the voices of those suffering as a result of conflict. That group – the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW) – was established by young people with firsthand experience of the hardships children face in conflict zones.
The network’s launch included a press conference at the United Nations in New York hosted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and Ambassador Giuolio Terzi of the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations, along with UNICEF.
NYPAW’s mission is to raise awareness of the plight of children in conflict zones, advocate for an end to hostilities and provide role models for children who are currently struggling to recover from war.
War destroys childhood
“Each of these young people has a story of overcoming great personal hardship,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “This new network can draw attention to the suffering of children caught in conflicts and demonstrate how young people themselves can help dramatically rebuild their lives.”
|At the Universal Children’s Day meeting on children in armed conflict (from left): Ambassador Giulio Terzi; Special Representative for the Secretary-General Radhika Coomaraswamy; and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Saad Houry.|
Around the world, some 250,000 children are being recruited unlawfully to participate in armed conflicts as soldiers, messengers, spies, porters and cooks. Those pressed into combat are often forced to the front lines or sent into minefields ahead of older troops. Some children are also used as suicide bombers. And sexual abuse of these children is common.
In addition to the children who are directly conscripted into conflicts, a staggering number have witnessed the horrors of war in the 42 countries where violent, high-intensity conflicts occurred between 2002 and 2006.
“From the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Gaza Strip, and from Afghanistan to Somalia, too many children are suffering from the consequences of conflict,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy. “War violates every right of the child. Everybody has a role to play to stop these violations. We cannot let war continue to destroy childhood.”
Ishmael Beah appointed UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War
Children and armed conflict
‘A Long Way Gone’ website
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