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Brussels, 12 February 2008

"Keep children out of the firing line"

Today marks the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. To mark the occasion the European Commissioners Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Louis Michel have joined forces to call for a more robust international response to the curse of child recruitment into armies and irregular fighting forces.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, spoke about the "tragedy of lost childhood for thousands of children in conflict zones across the world." She added: "I am profoundly distressed by the fact that ten years since the groundbreaking study on children in armed conflict by Graça Machel, conflicts around the world are still robbing so many thousands of children of their childhood. While remarkable advances have been made by the international community in developing a solid legal protection framework, on the ground conflicts have impacted children more brutally than ever. They are victims of deliberate strikes against schools and of abductions aimed at forcing them to serve as combatants, sex slaves or servants - but also intended to undermine the will of survival of whole communities. This is a negation of human security of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society which we cannot tolerate."

Louis Michel, Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, stressed the particular vulnerability of children caught up in humanitarian crises and living in camps for refugees or displaced people: "We know that young people in camps are a prime target for recruitment into armed groups. Taking already vulnerable youngsters and forcing them to bear arms or work as little more than slaves is unacceptable. It involves the worst form of child abuse and must be prevented as we and our partner countries strive to reach the Millennium Development Goals." In addition to the tragic phenomenon of child recruitment into military forces, children as a whole suffer disproportionately in armed conflicts. To tackle this issue, the Commission argues for a multi-faceted approach that addresses all aspects – involving development, humanitarian, security and human rights policies.

The recently adopted Commission Communication "A Special Place for Children in EU External Action" - a joint initiative of Vice-President Frattini, Commissioners Ferrero-Waldner and Michel - recognizes that children are particularly at risk from the effects of state fragility and from armed conflict. Therefore the issue of children affected by armed conflict as a priority area in which the European Union should undertake specific actions at regional and global levels including the need for humanitarian actors to respond to the particular needs of children affected by armed conflict.

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