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London (11 December 1995) -- Going into its 50th year of working for the children of the world, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today announced a major initiative against war.
Speaking at a press conference here to launch the State of the World's Children 1996, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy proposed a ten-point action-oriented Anti-war Agenda consisting of concrete measures to alleviate the impact of warfare on children.
Addressing issues ranging from conflict prevention and psychological rehabilitation of children to land-mines and sanctions, the UNICEF Agenda is a bold reassertion of humanitarian values and a call to action by the world community.
"Wars are not going to disappear but we can at least mitigate their effects and ensure that they do not target children," explains Ms. Bellamy. "To that end, this anti-war agenda sets out a series of steps that we believe to be both realistic and effective and that would dramatically improve the well-being of children in situations of conflict."
In particular, the Agenda calls for a universal ban on the production, use, stockpiling, sale and export of anti-personnel land-mines and commits UNICEF to an organizational boycott of any company involved in the manufacture or sale of such weapons.
UNICEF also calls for a "child impact assessment" prior to the application of sanctions and breaks new ground by insisting that the concept of "children as zones of peace" should be elevated to a tenet of international law. "Children as zones of peace" involves the establishment of geographical or time zones within which children can be protected from harm and provided with the essential services to ensure their survival and well-being in the midst of conflict.
The Agenda demands greater investment in conflict prevention activities and in efforts towards reconciliation and rehabilitation. A cornerstone of rehabilitation must be the provision of psycho-social trauma programmes to help heal the emotional wounds of children affected by war.
UNICEF also argues for special protection and support for women and girls because of the likelihood of sexual violence in wartime.
The State of the World's Children 1996, which sets forth the Agenda, provides a comprehensive description and analysis of the situation of children in war. The report bears witness to the suffering of children and provides a harrowing account of children thrown into mass graves, children wandering without parents, children wasting away in refugee camps and children tortured, slaughtered and brutalized into becoming gun-toting killers themselves.
It highlights the increasingly damaging impact of warfare on children and the prospects for further deterioration as more and more states dissolve into sites of chronic violence. UNICEF estimates that, during the last decade, war has killed 2 million children, disabled 4-5 million more, orphaned or separated 1 million from their parents, and psychologically traumatized some 10 million.
The report explains that most of the children who die in wartime have not been hit by bombs or bullets but have succumbed to starvation or sickness due to the destruction of medical services, water supplies and food sources.
It claims that no fewer than 200,000 children under the age of 16 were fighting in wars in 1988 alone. One explanation for this increasingly common phenomenon is the proliferation of light weapons. For example, the AK-47 assault rifle can be stripped and reassembled by a child of 10. The UNICEF Anti-war Agenda calls for an increase in the minimum age of recruitment under international law to 18 years.
The report argues that the welfare of children is inseparably linked to world peace. Poverty and lack of development fuel hatred and escalate hostilities and improvements in health, education, water and sanitation, nutrition and family planning would go far to reduce the underlying causes of many of today's wars.
"It was the suffering of children in war that prompted the founding of UNICEF 50 years ago," says Carol Bellamy. "It is the continuing suffering of children that reminds us how much more we need to do".