Child soldiers

Who they are: includes anyone under 18 who is directly or indirectly participating in armed conflict. An estimated 300,000 around the world today - almost half of them are in Africa.

What they do:They are used as spies, messengers, guards, and porters. Girls are often forced into sexual service. Many are trained in combat, forced to kill.

Current laws: The UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits states from recruiting anyone under 15. It has been ratified by 191 of the world's nations, but many do not comply.

Campaign: A United Nations working group has attempted to draft an optional protocol to the convention that would raise the minimum age for recruitment to 18.In June 1998, a new Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers was formed specifically to step up international pressure forthe "straight-18" position. Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers includes Save the Children International, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Quaker United Nations Office, International Federation Terre des Hommes, Jesuit Refugee Service, Defence for Children International. The group has held three conferences this year: in Mozambique, Uruguay, and Germany.

Opposition:An overwhelming number of states support "straight-18s" protocol.The only states that prefer a lower age are Cuba, Bangladesh, Britain, Israel, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Kuwait, and the United States.

American concerns: That wide acceptance of the optional protocol will be used to pressure the US to change its national legislation regarding military recruitment.

Success:The 174 member states of the International Labor Organization in June 1999 adopted an international convention that commits each state to "take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor as a matter of urgency".

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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