Columns - Inside the glass house

The gruesome truth: Children used as human bombs

By Thalif Deen at the united nations

NEW YORK - In the United States, some parents unabashedly make a public display of their child's academic achievements on a bumper sticker in the family car which proudly claims: "My son is an honour student at public school 187." But most Americans dismiss such gross displays of unmitigated pride as being "tacky"-- showing poor taste.

The irritated neighbour, on the other hand, is likely to respond with his own bumper sticker which would read: "My son sold term papers to your honour student" thereby denigrating the academic achievements of the former.

And when Americans discovered terrorist training schools in Afghanistan -- perhaps run by the Taliban or Al-Qaeda -- there was a joke about a bumper sticker on a car in the dusty streets of Kabul. The American-style sticker apparently read: "My son is an honour student in the Taliban terrorist school." As the old saying goes, to each his own.

An Iraqi boy holds the hand of his brother as they stand near the site of multi explosions at a market in Baghdad's eastern Sadr City district on Thursday. AFP

A new UN report on "Children and Armed Conflict" released last week cites dozens of cases where armed groups are increasingly using children either as suicide bombers or abusing them as child soldiers in battle zones in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In Afghanistan, children are also being deliberately harmed.

In May last year, insurgents in Iraq apparently strapped explosives to a young girl and remotely detonated her as she approached an Iraqi army command post in Yousifiyah. In September, a 15-year-old boy blew himself up among pro-government militia members in northern Baghdad, while a 13-year-old girl blew herself up at a check point in Ba'qubah last November.

In its report, the United Nations also points out armed groups in Iraq are allegedly using children to support operations such as transporting improvised explosive devices (IEDs), acting as lookouts for other armed actors and as suicide bombers.

The study cites the case of a 15-year-old girl, a would-be suicide bomber, who was arrested while still wearing an explosive vest. She was apparently married to an alleged al-Qaeda militant at the age of 14, after leaving school at the age of 11. Both her father and her brother had been suicide bombers.
A particularly gruesome incident took place last November when Taliban militants in Afghanistan attacked a group of girls' enroute to school by throwing acid on their faces. This time, the children were the victims, not aggressors. As the United Nations recounts the attack, the militants were reportedly paid 100,000 Pakistani rupees for each girl they were able to burn.

The study, which was the subject of a debate in the Security Council last week, also criticises the recruitment and use of child soldiers, mostly by non-state actors in countries such as Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

The recruitment of child soldiers by government forces are mostly in Myanmar, Chad and DRC, according to the report. The armed groups that deploy child soldiers include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the National Liberation Army in Colombia, and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.

In a statement released last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Security Council to impose sanctions on governments and armed groups for variety of crimes, including the use of child soldiers, sexual violence against children and attacking schools.

The Council should also promote effective prosecution of the commanders responsible for such abuse, HRW said. In a report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon identified some 56 governments and armed groups from 14 countries which are accused of violating international laws prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Jo Becker, HRW's children's rights advocate, says there have been a number of cases where non-state actors can be receptive to international pressure, including from the Security Council, on the issue of child soldiers.

For example, she said, the secretary-general announced last year that several non-state actors in Cote d'Ivoire had signed and implemented action plans to end their use of child soldiers. This year, the secretary-general's report notes that two non-state actors in Myanmar had signed voluntary deeds of commitment to end their use of child soldiers and had sought to complete action plans with the United Nations (but were blocked from doing so by the Myanmar government).

Two years ago, Becker said, recorded cases of child recruitment by the LTTE also noticeably dropped after the Security Council said that it would consider further action if the Sri Lanka-based group did not show improvement during a six-month period.

At a news conference last week, Under-Secretary-General Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, told reporters her office continued to face obstacles in negotiating action plans with some non-state actors because the countries concerned were denying access. This was particularly true in Myanmar, she added.

Among the significant developments last year, she said, was the "de-listing" of the Ugandan government, after it successfully embarked on an action plan with the United Nations country team on the removal of children from its armed forces.

Coomaraswamy said that "some positive progress" had also been reported among the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal in Sri Lanka, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, and the Forces nationales de liberation in Burundi.

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