Alarming rise in child soldiers

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The Independent Online

Children are becoming deliberate targets of war, with more than 2 million killed in the last decade, 10 million severely traumatised and hundreds of thousands more involved in actual fighting, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

Commemorating its 50th anniversary, Unicef has launched a 10-point anti- war agenda, aiming to reduce the impact of armed conflict on children.

In its latest annual report, The State of the World's Children 1996, it says: "It is the single characteristic of warfare in our time that children suffer most ... The death and suffering of children cannot be tolerated." The report was launched in London yesterday.

Children have always been caught up in war but the dangers have been intensified. In the First World War civilians accounted for 14 per cent of the victims. By the Second World War it was close to 70 per cent and by 1990 almost 90 per cent.

In the last decade it is estimated that 2 million children have been killed, 4-5 million disabled, 12 million made homeless, more than 1 million orphaned or separated from their parents and some 10 million psychologically traumatised.

One of the most disturbing developments is the "frightening escalation" in the use of children as soldiers. In 1988 alone 200,000 were fighting. In 1986, the Uganda National Resistance Army had 3,000 child soldiers. In Angola 7 per cent of children had fired a weapon at someone, according to a survey in 1995.

"Children have no place fighting in wars," Carol Bellamy, Unicef's executive director, said. "Yet thousands, even hundreds of thousands, do fight." She called for an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child raising the minimum age for military recruitment from 15 to 18.

8 The State of the World's Children 1996; Unicef; pounds 5.95

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