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Children Often Main Targets of War, U.N. Says

October 23, 1998| From Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — Children are increasingly the innocent victims of war: Two million have been killed since 1987, 6 million have been seriously injured or permanently disabled, and 300,000 are currently fighting in government or rebel armies, according to a new U.N. report.

"Not only are millions of children still the victims of war, far too often they are its principal targets and even its instruments," the U.N. envoy for children and armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, said in his first annual report released Wednesday.

Children are suffering from the effects of armed conflict in approximately 50 countries, and fighting is still continuing in about 30 of these countries, he said in a news conference.

"From Sierra Leone to Tajikistan, from Liberia to Cambodia, from the Sudan to Kosovo, from Sri Lanka to Afghanistan, millions of children are being robbed of their childhood and left with mangled lives," Otunnu said.

An alarming trend, he said, is the growing use of child soldiers.

The number of children under the age of 18 serving as combatants in government armed forces or armed opposition groups in ongoing conflicts is estimated to have increased from 250,000 about 2 1/2 years ago to 300,000 today, Otunnu said.

"Many more are being used in indirect ways that are more difficult to measure, such as cooks, messengers and porters. Children have also been used for mine clearance, spying and suicide bombing," he said.

The development and proliferation of lightweight automatic weapons have made it possible for very young children to bear and use arms, he noted.

Otunnu said he is working to mobilize public opinion and political pressure "against this terrible trend."

He is backing efforts to raise the legal age for military recruitment and participation in hostilities to 18 years--and to make the recruitment of children under the age of 15 and their participation in armed conflicts a war crime.

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