Ex child soldier begs for end to practice

United Nations - The Security Council on Friday condemned the recruitment of child soldiers into military forces, guerrilla movements and Islamic militias around the world and demanded an end to attacks on schools and hospitals in conflict zones.

The council unanimously approved a resolution with those demands after hearing testimony from a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, which became notorious for guerrilla groups that amputated the limbs, ears and lips of civilians to leave them as living emblems of fear.

File image - Child soldiers walk the streets of the Central African Republic capital Bangui. (AP Photo/Herve Cyriaque Serefio). Credit: AP

In 2001, when he was 14, Alhaji Babah Sawaneh became the first ex-child soldier to speak before the council, and he spoke again Friday as a campaigner against the practice.

He told the council that he was “one of the children that were forcefully abducted and conscripted into an armed group at the age of 10.”

“My childhood was robbed by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) for two years. It was one of the most brutish and turbulent civil wars in the history of armed conflict,” he said.

“The children and young people in countries affected by armed conflict need a future, we need education and jobs. Today I am standing here again, by the grace of God, and I am asking again for your help,” he said.

Sawaneh said he went on to find a foster family, finished his university degree two years ago and now is an anti-child conscription campaigner in Sierra Leone.

In his last report on child soldiers, released in 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon cited government forces in Afghanistan, Chad, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia, Congo, Syria, Yemen and Sudan for recruiting minors.

Other offenders are Islamic movements in Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Afghanistan, several al-Qaida groups, and combatants in Colombia, the Philippines, Syria, Myanmar and Central African Republic, including the Lord's Resistance Army.

On Friday, Ban pointed to Syria as one of the most egregious conflicts affecting children today. He said more than 2.25 million Syrian children are out of school, and “one of five schools has been damaged or occupied by families made homeless by the conflict.”

Ban's latest report on child soldiers, filed in 2013, cited government forces in Afghanistan, Chad, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia, Congo, Syria, Yemen and Sudan for recruiting children.

However, over the last three years the United Nations has signed action plans to phase out child recruitment with the governments of Afghanistan, Chad, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Yemen and Sudan's governments and Myanmar guerrilla movements have also expressed their commitment to child-free security forces and are in talks with the United Nations.