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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Paris Commitments on protecting child soldiers gain support among UN Member States

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1453/Markisz
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman speaks at the Ministerial meeting to follow up on the implementation of the Paris Commitments on children associated with armed forces and groups.

By Amy Bennett

NEW YORK, USA, 30 September 2009 – The challenging and critical job of protecting children from recruitment by armed forces or groups took a step forward this week, as a number of United Nations Member States added their names to the ‘Paris Commitments’.

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Adopted in February 2007, the Paris Commitments are an expression of strengthened international resolve to prevent the recruitment of children and highlight the actions governments can take to protect children affected by conflict. A related document, the Paris Principles, sets out operational guidelines for the sustainable reintegration of former child soldiers.

A total of 84 states now have endorsed the commitments. The latest signatories are Albania, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Guinea, Jamaica, Liechtenstein, Panama and Senegal.

Ministerial meeting at UN

At UN headquarters yesterday, the Permanent Mission of France, UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, convened a Ministerial-level meeting about the Paris Commitments and the Paris Principles. There was a frank discussion of lessons learned since the adoption of the commitments.

“The support for the Paris Principles and new endorsements of the Paris Commitments show that the international community is mobilized to stop this unbearable phenomenon,” said French Minister of State for Cooperation and Francophonie Alain Joyandet.

Children are being used in armed conflict by more than 50 parties around the world. Their release and reintegration, as well as the protection of other vulnerable children affected by conflict, remains an issue of grave global concern.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1454/Markisz
The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and ICRC Head of Delegation to the United Nations Walter A. Füllemann speak on behalf of the Paris Principles Steering Group.

Resources for reintegration

Each of the conveners of yesterday’s meeting spoke about the need to dedicate more resources to programmes for long-term reintegration.

“It is important that all children, whether they have joined an armed group by force or by circumstance, have access to vital assistance to help them reintegrate and lead empowered and productive lives,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Reintegration for children is a long-term process and can only be successful if it is sustainable, inclusive and community-based.”

Ms. Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative, noted that a high level of political determination behind the Paris Commitments will help strengthen the existing child-protection framework worldwide.

“We must send a strong message that children must be saved,” she said.

A viable alternative

In the context of armed conflict, returning a child to his or her former life is a complex process. More complex, still, is the challenge of returning the child to a life that offers a viable alternative to being re-recruited into armed forces or groups.

“Children who join voluntarily often do so because it is the best available option for them,” said the International Committee of the Red Cross Head of Delegation to the UN, Walter A. Füllemann, speaking on behalf of the Paris Principles Steering Group. “It can be a way to escape inequalities, to be able to eat, or to earn money, to support their families, to fight for a cause or to be part of a group, to be with peers.

“Once inside, they may still believe they made a good choice, and for some it may seem to be the right choice,” he added. “For many, once inside, they realize firsthand the challenges and the real dangers of being part of an armed force or an armed group.”




29 September 2009: UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on the Ministerial meeting on implementation of the Paris Commitments relating to the use of children in armed conflict.
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