'Children have no place in war';Child Labour;Briefing;International

11th June 1999 at 01:00
As governments prepare to agree a convention on child labour, Peter Moszynski reports on efforts to save youngsters from the battleground.

Peter Moszynski tells the tale of a teenage combat veteran.

Child rights organisations are pressing for an international ban on the use of children as soldiers.

The move is being made as governments meet to agree a Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour at the International Labour Organisation in Geneva this week and next.

David Bull, director of Amnesty International, said that the campaign to include a specific child-soldiering clause in the convention was "evidence of the increasing international consensus that children have no place in war and should be protected from participation in it".

There are currently estimated to be 300,000 soldiers under 18 serving in both government and rebel armies worldwide, and in some countries soldiers are as young as 10.

As well as demobilising children serving in government and rebel forces, active measures are needed to ease their return to society. And education has a crucial role to play in helping psychological rehabilitation.

UN special expert Graca Machel explained: "Education, and especially the completion of primary schooling, must be a high priority. For a former child soldier education is more than a route to employment, it also helps normalise life and to develop an identity separate from that of the soldier.

"One difficulty is the likelihood that former combatants may have fallen far behind in their schooling, and may be placed in classes with much younger children. Specific measures may be required, such as establishing special classes for former child soldiers who can then progressively be reintegrated into regular schools."

Ms Machel, married to outgoing South African president Nelson Mandela, and the former wife of the late president of Mozambique, has played a leading role in the international campaign to rid the world of child soldiers. Mozambique was one of the first countries afflicted by the abduction and training of children by rebel forces.

She said that wider cultural and social issues that need to be considered include the fears of teachers and parents that enrolling ex-combatants in schools may have a disruptive effect and the concern in some African cultures that children who have killed will bring evil spirits with them when they return home.

"We must address these community concerns," she said.

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