The international community should renew efforts to fight against the abuse of child soldiers, Austrian Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger has said.
He made the call as the world marked the 10th anniversary of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Protocol came into force on 12th February 2002. Since then, 144 states have agreed to impose penalties on the involvement of child soldiers in their countries.
“We are far from having won the world-wide fight against the recruiting of child soldiers. According to some estimates, 300,000 minors are currently still being used as soldiers. This cruel crime must be prosecuted and penalties must be imposed. Dictators and rebel leaders must understand that the international community is not prepared to accept such severe violations of human rights,” Dr. Spindelegger said on Red Hand Day.
The developments of the most recent years do, however, give reason for hope. At the Special Court for Sierra Leone – with the highly experienced Austrian judge Renate Winter as a member of the Appeals Chamber – numerous cases of recruitment of children for armed groups during the bloody civil war are now being investigated. The first judgment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague on the recruitment of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to be given soon.
“A major challenge is the re-integration of former child soldiers into society. Most of the children are not only scarred for life but are often also excluded from their societies,” Dr. Spindelegger said. “Austria has supported the UN work on re-integrating former child soldiers for many years and also promotes projects of this kind within the framework of the Austrian Development Cooperation.”