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Nations must ratify U.N. treaty on child soldiers



Published: Thu, June 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Say "minesweeper" to most people, and they would probably think of naval vessels especially outfitted to clear harbors of mines. But in many nations around the world, "minesweepers" are the expendable child soldiers -- some as young as seven -- put in the front lines of battle to clear the area for troops that follow. Such exploitation is unconscionable.

According to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, as many as 300,000 youngsters are recruited -- or abducted -- to serve with rebel groups or even with national armies as fighters, porters, spies, even sex slaves in 41 countries.

Cheap and expendable: In releasing the report, coalition coordinator Rory Mungoven said & quot;Children are being recruited because they are cheap, because they are expendable, & quot; and because they are easier to manipulate and transport across borders. Specifically, the report said children are " easier to condition into fearless killing and unthinking obedience."

In other words, if a kid is large enough to hold a gun, no matter what his age, he can be turned into a killer.

And in the United States we worry about children growing up too fast if they watch R-rated movies.

Consider this: In Uganda, 140 children were kidnapped by rebels and sent to Sudan as soldiers. The girls were forced to kill one of their classmates when she tried to escape. In Colombia, last August reported the Los Angeles Times, a group of elementary school children were killed when an army unit mistook them for a guerrilla unit. Once some children in an area become fighters, then all are suspect.

Americans as young as 17 may voluntarily enlist in the U.S. armed forces, but in Africa, Asia and South America, there is little choice.

Last May, the United Nations drafted a treaty banning the forced recruitment and participation of children younger than 18 in armed conflict. The world body hopes that 100 nations will ratify the treaty before a special session on children scheduled for September.

So long as the treaty specifies forced participation, the United States should have no problem acting in the interests of children around the world.




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