Amman Hosts Conference on Child Soldiers Sunday
A conference on 300,000 child soldiers in the Middle East and the world is due to open in Amman Sunday, according to Jordan’s official news agency, Petra.
"Thousands of children, some as young as 10, are serving with armed forces, paramilitaries, youth militias and armed groups in the Middle East and North Africa," the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said in a statement, cited by AFP.
Patronized by Queen Rania and also organized by UNICEF and Jordan’s Institute of Diplomacy, the conference attracts the participation of representatives of 20 Arab and regional countries in addition to a number of NGOs, according to Petra.
Children are currently engaged in fighting with armed groups in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Turkey and Yemen, the Coalition statement said, while many countries include "military drill and indoctrination" as part of regular school programs.
The coalition did not report any evidence of children being recruited or used systematically by the Palestinian Authority or armed groups in the Intifada against Israeli occupation, said AFP.
It estimated that less than one percent of Palestinian adolescents have taken an active part in clashes with Israeli troops, with this confined to stone-throwing or anti-Israeli demonstrations.
"Most of the children killed have been mere bystanders in their homes or on their way to and from school," coalition coordinator Rory Mungoven said.
Israel meanwhile was said to accept volunteers under the age of 18 in its armed forces.
"The challenge now is to ensure such exploitation and abuse is prevented for future generations," Mungoven said, citing the long-term scars such conflicts leave in children.
The BBC.online cited Mungoven as saying there had been an improvement in the Middle East since the large-scale use of child soldiers in the Lebanese civil war and the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
But he noted that neither Iran nor Iraq had sent representatives to the conference.
However, Petra said that Iraq is taking part in the gathering.
Participants are expected to debate several working papers focusing on legal measures aimed at protecting children from being unwillingly drafted into the armed conflicts across the globe.
But they will also discuss the psychological development of children who grow up under the shadow of bloody confrontations, particularly Arab and Israeli children caught in the Palestinian struggle.
Programs aimed at "rehabilitating" these children will be on the agenda of the conference which also hopes to issue a declaration calling for a worldwide ban on the use of child soldiers in armed conflicts.
Only three countries -- Bangladesh, Canada, Sri Lanka -- out of the 192 UN member-states have so far ratified a UN document on the protection of children in armed conflict which has been signed, however, by 75 states.
Jordan, Turkey and Morocco are among the regional signatories of the document which needs to be ratified by at least 10 of the United Nations members in order to come into effect.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers includes on its steering committee such organizations as Amnesty International, Defense for Children International and Human Rights Watch – Albawaba.com