The campaign to end the use of child soldiers is an issue close to Michel Chikwanine's heart. That's because he himself was abducted from his family in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the age of five, drugged and forced into violence. After a harrowing ordeal, he eventually escaped and made it to Canada, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of fellow children facing a life of violence and abuse.
In honour of last week's International Day Against The Use of Child Soldiers, we asked Michel to share some of his thoughts with us:
On Tuesday, Retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian senator and the former commander of the UN mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide in that country, addressed the Canadian Senate on the topic of child soldiers. Here are his comments:
[Translated from French]
Hon. Roméo Antonius Dallaire: "Honourable senators, when a sergeant and his unit entered a village that, less than an hour before, had been completely destroyed by a rebel faction, they found that the chapel was still intact and that people were inside. After forcing the door open, they estimated that about a hundred
people were still alive. The sergeant contacted my headquarters requesting transport to secure the group. At that moment, from the edge of the village, 30 or so boys and girls, 9 to16 years old, opened fire on the sergeant, his unit and the people they were
protecting. As they were trying to protect themselves, another group of about 20 girls around the same age, some of them pregnant, emerged from the other edge of the village. They were being used as a human shield. Behind them, more boys and girls,
8 to16 years old, opened fire on the sergeant, his unit and the people they were protecting.
What was the sergeant to do? What order should he have given? Should he have ordered his soldiers to kill the children who were killing, who had been taken from their families, taken from their schools, forced to take drugs, brainwashed by unbelievably irresponsible adults, sexually abused and used as weapons of
war? Is that the only solution?
That is why Canada led the way to including children's rights in the protocol to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflict.
On February 12, we saluted the efforts of over 150 countries around the world to stop the other 30 countries that use over 250,000 children as child soldiers, children as young as seven or eight.
I would like to read a short excerpt from the convention:
'The protocol establishes an obligation upon parties to take all feasible measures to prevent the direct participation in hostilities by individuals under the age of 18. It prohibits the compulsory recruitment of persons under the age of 18 into the armed forces and also obliges parties to raise the minimum age of voluntary recruitment of persons into the armed forces above the age set by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It further requires parties to establish safeguards relative to the voluntary recruitment of individuals under the age of 18. The protocol also prescribes the recruitment of persons under the age of 18 years by armed groups that are distinct from armed forces of a state. Finally, the protocol sets forth an obligation upon parties to report to the committees on human rights and child abuse and its implementation.'
Not only have we seen the threat of child soldiers, but now our forces are also facing the threat of child pirates. Clearly over 60 per cent of the pirates now being employed in the world are children or youths well under the age of 15, whom our forces are faced to confront with lethal force.
It is a requirement for us to argue to advance the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and to work not only at sea to try to stop these youth from being used as child pirates, but also to go to the nations that use them and bring those subversive elements before the International Criminal Court in order to stop this impunity."
(Senate Canada, Debates of the Senate, 1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, No. 51 - Tuesday, February 14, 2012)
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