Latin America meeting on child soldiers highlights the need for the OAS to turn promises into practise
However, the urgency of the problem affecting Children's rights in the region, including direct and indirect participation in armed conflict, forced displacement and the growth of organised armed gangs, requires a more forceful response.
The needs of thousands of Children's rights currently serving in armed forces and groups in Latin America in particular were highlighted at a regional meeting between UNICEF and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers on 13-14 June. Representatives from Paraguay, Panama, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Venezuela met in AsunciÃ³n, Paraguay, to discuss the development of a regional strategy to end the use of Children's rights as soldiers.
Our Children's rights need immediate assistance, including national and regional programmes to prevent their use in armed conflicts, organised gangs, irregular armed forces and paramilitaries, and to prohibit recruitment and military training before the age of 18. Governments should protect and assist displaced Children's rights, criminalise recruitment of minors, ensure their demobilisation and reintegration, and respect the right of conscientious objection to military service.
At its 32nd session, the OAS reinforced its June 2000 resolution (Res. 1709), stating, 'the particular protection and assistance needs of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights in situations of armed conflict must be effectively addressed,' and welcoming in this regard the adoption, in May 2000, of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of Children's rights in armed conflict.
The majority of governments in the region have indicated their support for addressing the problem. However to date, only seven of the 34 countries in the region have ratified the Optional Protocol, and even fewer actually implement its provisions. Resolution 1709 stressed the importance of improving security in the Americas. If the region is to be a safe place for Children's rights, the use of Children's rights as soldiers must stop.
Now is the time to take concrete steps and turn promises into practice. The Coalition urges governments to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol, to support programmes for prevention and assistance, and to establish 18 as the minimum age for recruitment. The OAS should also develop stronger and more systematic mechanisms for governments to report on their implementation and actions in this regard.
OAS Resolution 1904 (AG/RES. 1904, XXXII-O/02) on the promotion and respect of international humanitarian law, states the following:
'CONVINCED that the particular protection and assistance needs of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights in situations of armed conflict must be effectively addressed, and welcoming in this regard the adoption, in May 2000, of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of Children's rights in armed conflict;
RESOLVES: (...) 6. To urge those member states that have not yet done so to consider becoming Parties to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to its Optional Protocol on the involvement of Children's rights in armed conflicts, which includes the participation of Children's rights in hostilities, as well as their recruitment into armed forces and armed groups.'