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Conscription (Children)

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions she has had with the United Nations about child conscription into state armies in developing countries. (84469)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has identified child rights as one of its top three human rights priorities. One important focus for this work is addressing the issue of children affected by armed conflict, including the recruitment of children into armed forces and armed groups. The UK has supported the establishment of a UN monitoring and reporting mechanism on this issue and is actively involved in the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to ensure that action is taken to follow up reports from this mechanism. The UK welcomes the efforts of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict to advocate the rights of children affected by armed conflict. The UK also promotes ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict through its network of diplomatic posts.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate she has made of the number of children conscripted into armies for military action in (a) Asia, (b) Africa and (c) Latin America. (84470)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made no estimate of the number of children recruited by armed forces and armed groups in these countries. A number of studies exist in this area, including some by non-governmental organisations, as well as statistics on the numbers of children involved in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes. The picture of the numbers affected is complicated by the many ways in which children can be affected by conflict, for example as porters, messengers, spies or cooks, as well as active combatants. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict said in a report to the General Assembly in September 2005 that over 250,000 children continue to be exploited as child soldiers. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimated in its 2004 Global Report that up to 100,000 children in Africa remained involved in hostilities and also provided estimates for situations in specific countries in Asia and Latin America. This report is accessible most easily at the following website:

http://www.child-soldiers.org/resources/global-reports

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent estimate she has made of the number of children conscripted into armies in (a) Sierra Leone, (b) the Philippines, (c) Colombia, (d) Burundi, (e) Democratic Republic of Congo, (f) Liberia, (g) Somalia, (h) Afghanistan, (i) Burma and (j) Uganda; what recent representations she has made on the conscription of children into the army of each country; and if she will make a statement. (84497)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made no estimate of the number of children recruited by armed forces and armed groups in these countries. A number of studies exist in this area, including some by non-governmental organisations, as well as statistics on the numbers of children involved in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes. The picture of the numbers affected is complicated by the many ways in which children can be affected by conflict, for example as porters, messengers, spies or cooks, as well as active combatants. One helpful source in this area is the Child Soldiers Global Report 2004, produced by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers which provides estimates for the countries listed. This document is accessible most easily at the following website:

http://www.child-soldiers.org/resources/global-reports

Ministers and officials have made representations on this issue. For example, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade has raised our concerns on a number of issues in Burma including the recruitment of child soldiers with the Burmese ambassador in London, and in writing to the Burmese Foreign Minister. During 2005, officials were active in a series of EU démarches in countries where the use of child soldiers is a particular problem. Démarches were conducted in Burundi, Colombia, Côte d’lvoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Nepal, Sudan and Uganda. The UK has also sought to ensure that disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes are sustainable and make appropriate provision for the particular needs of children. This has included specific assistance in a number of the countries listed, for example the Ministry of Defence’s assistance in reforming recruiting practices in the Sierra Leone army.