UNITED NATIONS – Hundreds of thousands of children around the world are being used as soldiers, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report Wednesday, describing the situation as “grave and unacceptable.”
Despite international initiatives to protect children in conflict zones, Annan said “atrocities against children and impunity for violators continue largely unabated on the ground.”
In his annual report to the U.N. Security Council on child soldiers, Annan recommended sanctions against groups who use them. These could include travel bans on leaders, arms embargoes and a “restriction on the flow of financial resources to the parties concerned,” he said.
The U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, told reporters Wednesday that Annan’s report marked a turning point for “transforming words into deeds.” He said the international community needed to move its focus from developing standards on protecting children to ensuring they are enforced on the ground.
“The report represents the launch of a comprehensive compliance regime to ensure the protection of millions of children who have been brutalized in situations of conflict,” he added.
Otunnu said 54 groups, including state and rebel forces, use children as soldiers.
The report said child soldiers are used in Burundi, Ivory Coast, Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
Otunnu said there were about 300,000 child soldiers around the world, compared to between 350,000 and 380,000 two years ago.
Many children abducted or recruited as soldiers suffer violence and abuse.
Annan’s report said child soldiers are used in the Darfur region of Sudan by the Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, which has killed, maimed and committed grave sexual violence against children.
In Liberia, where more than 10,000 children in arms have been demobilized, about 75 percent of girls surveyed reported some form of sexual abuse or exploitation.
In Colombia, several armed groups are still using children, according to the report. “Members of illegal armed groups were alleged to have killed and maimed children as well as committed rape and other forms of sexual violence against children,” Annan said.
In Nepal, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist recruited underage soldiers and killed children, including more than 50 in the first half of last year. Security forces killed children suspected of involvement in the party.
In Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army abducted at least 3,000 children between October 2003 and July 2004, the report said. The group also kills and maims children and uses sexual violence against girls it abducts, Annan said.