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Hopeful signs for UN action plans on child soldiers - Afghanistan

Hopeful signs for UN action plans on child soldiers
NEW YORK, 10 February 2011 (IRIN) - The recent UN-negotiated action plan with the Afghanistan government - signed on 30 January and outlawing the use of child soldiers in armed forces - has not yet resulted in demobilization, but it has shifted the focus to the role state actors play in recruiting children.

Relatively few governments in the world currently recruit and use children in their armed forces. The London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (CSUCS) lists Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Sudan among the “five real offenders”, according to CSUCS head of international programmes Lucia Withers.

Prior to the Afghan action, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Secretary-General's special representative on children and armed conflict, oversaw the January 2009 signing of a similar action plan with Uganda. Implementation of the plan was very fast, Coomaraswamy told IRIN, noting that UN monitoring ascertained that all children were de-listed within 18 months. Coomaraswamy expects speedy action in Afghanistan.

States tend to move much quicker - they move with a purpose and usually they want to fall in line with international standards, Coomaraswamy explained. She expects a similar agreement to be signed with Chad within the next few months and in November, the prime minister of Somalia signalled a willingness to work towards an action plan, as well. Negotiations with the government of Myanmar occurred in both 2009 and 2010 and Coomaraswamy says she hopes that this year, post-election, will provide a new opportunity for further progress.

UN negotiated action plans can be more effective than other measures, like the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a UN General Assembly approved protocol which sets 18 as the minimum age for recruitment into armed forces and participation in hostilities. Afghanistan is among the 138 countries that has ratified the protocol, but is six years overdue in reporting to the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child, a regular requirement for all protocol-abiding countries.

"The problem with the Optional Protocol is there are no consequences for it and it relies on states, NGOs, the UN and others to put pressure on states to abide by its obligations, but there are no sanctions involved, and there is actually no teeth to this kind of human rights treaty," said Withers.

Violations against the action plan, on the other hand, can result in a government or armed force continuing to be listed in the UN Secretary-General's annual name-and-shame list, as well as the possibility of eventual sanctions.

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