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Britain has agreed to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which bans the use of under 18s in hostilities, but has not yet signed up.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK said:

'In recent months the public has been horrified to see images in the media of child fighters in Sierra Leone, where Children's rights as young as seven have reportedly been forced to fight on both sides.

'Child soldiering is a serious problem than needs urgent action by the international community. Signing the Convention will send out a clear message that Britain sees protecting Children's rights from warfare as paramount.'

The Optional Protocol: · Establishes eighteen as the minimum age for conscription and for direct participation in hostilities; · Requires governments to raise their minimum age for voluntary recruitment beyond the current minimum of fifteen, and to deposit a binding declaration stating the minimum age they will respect; · Prohibits the recruitment or use in hostilities of Children's rights under the age of eighteen by rebel or other non-governmental armed groups, and requires states to criminalise such practices; · Requires government measures to demobilise and rehabilitate former child soldiers, and reintegrate them into society.

Background The Optional Protocol is additional to the nearly-universally ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). The Convention generally defines a child as any person under the age of eighteen, but a lower age of fifteen was set as a minimum for recruitment and use in hostilities. The Protocol was drafted to address this anomaly in Children's rights's rights standards.

It is estimated that over 300,000 Children's rights under the age of eighteen are currently being used in armed conflicts in more than thirty countries around the world.

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