The African Union’s top security organ says warring parties in conflicts across the continent are still using child soldiers in spite of it being illegal under both its instruments and those of the United Nations.
South Sudan was singled out as the country with the majority of child soldiers, even though the ongoing disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programme, under the September 2018 peace agreement, has also seen thousands of child soldiers rescued from the warfront.
Also read: Violence threatens fragile South Sudan peace
The AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), which decides policy on conflicts as well as decisions to maintain peace on the continent, said this week that armed groups and terrorist groups are still using children in wars.
“These are in violation of existing continental child protection instruments, particularly the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; and determined to effectively prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict situations in the African Continent,” said the communique released on Thursday.
A November 2021 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund found that West and Central Africa have the highest number in the world of children (under 18 years) recruited by armed groups.
The report said that 21,000 children had been recruited by government forces and armed groups in the past five years. More than 2,200 children in the region have been victims of sexual violence since 2016, and more than 3,500 children have been abducted, making it the region with the second-highest abductions in the world.
Now the AUPSC wants the AU Commission, led by Moussa Faki Mahamat, to undertake a study on the specific impact of terrorism on children and to submit the report of the study for consideration by the Council, as soon as possible.
It directed the commission to work in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders to explore ways to strengthen the existing AU and Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms for the protection of children in situations of conflict, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The communique condemned the continued recruitment and use of children by armed forces, armed groups, and terrorist organisations on the continent.
“We urge them to fully respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law and also to respect and maintain the civilian and humanitarian character of education centres, refugee and IDP camps, as well as to immediately stop targeting and using schools and refugee and IDP camps as recruitment centres,” said the communique.
The AUPSC wants member states to comprehensively address the factors that contribute to the continued recruitment and use of children in conflict situations, such as underdevelopment, abject poverty, youth unemployment, climate change, child abuse and marginalisation of some regions in the continent.
In Somalia, the recruitment and use of 1,716 children was documented by the UN in 2021.
Bankole Adeoye, the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, and Co-chair of the Africa Platform on Children Affected by Armed Conflicts, says that the impact of armed conflict in Africa on millions of boys and girls is devastating and unacceptable.
“All of us should realise our joint responsibility to protect all children from the ravages of wars. The time is now to address violations of children’s rights in conflict-affected countries and to prevent them in the future,” he said in a statement.