[NEW YORK, 8 February 2006] – UNICEF today congratulated Radhika Coomaraswamy on her appointment as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
Ms. Coomaraswamy succeeds Olara Otunnu, who completed his term in July 2005. Mr. Otunnu was the first person to serve as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and was appointed one year after the groundbreaking 1996 report by Graça Machel focused global attention on the devastating impact of armed conflict on children.
“Ms. Coomaraswamy has a long record in defending the rights of women and children,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah. “UNICEF looks forward to working closely with her to ensure that the pressing issue of children being abused and exploited in armed conflict remains high on the global agenda.”
A native of Sri Lanka, Ms. Coomaraswamy is an internationally known human rights advocate. She is currently the Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission and served most recently as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.
The chaos of conflict, including the breakdown of social services and population displacement, leaves children extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Girls are routinely targeted in campaigns of sexual violence and exploitation. Hundreds of thousands of children are recruited and used by armed forces and groups as combatants, messengers, spies, porters and cooks and for sexual services.
The appointment comes at a critical juncture in the history of advocating for the protection of these children. In 2005 the Security Council unanimously adopted a landmark resolution that obligates the United Nations system to establish a mechanism to monitor and report on grave violations of children’s rights during war by both governments and armed groups.
Ensuring the resolution is enforced is critical to ending the impunity that surrounds these egregious violations, which include the killing or maiming of children; the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape and other forms of sexual violence; the abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access.
UNICEF’s work to protect children affected by armed conflict includes advocating for the ratification of the Optional Protocol on Children Involved in Armed Conflict, supporting disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes for children who are used by armed forces and groups, and protecting children from violence, particularly sexual violence that targets girls.
GIRL SOLDIERS - ABDUCTED & FORCED AS SOLDIERS & SEX SLAVES
World armed groups 'abduct girls'
A Save The Children report found more than 120,000 girls and young women have been abducted and pushed into conflict.
The charity says they often end up serving as soldiers or performing domestic jobs, but almost all of them are forced into becoming sex slaves.
It urged world leaders to do more to stop "the war on children".
Figures released by Save The Children showed that around 6,500 girls have been captured by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo another 12,000 are believed to be involved in armed organisations while another 21,500 are thought to be associated with the conflict in Sri Lanka (43% of all children fighting in that war).
A spokesman for the organisation said the study was not unique to any one country or continent and it showed a worrying global trend.
'Stop war on children'
The report also criticises world leaders and donors for failing to address the problem and says rehabilitation programmes set up by the international community are considerably under-funded.
Often girls get only some food, water, oil, plastic sheeting for shelter and a lift home, the report says.
"Girls returning home are often marginalised and excluded from their communities," it says. "They are viewed as violent, unruly, dirty, or as promiscuous troublemakers.
"Girls returning pregnant or with babies face the additional pressure of protecting and providing for their babies with little or no support from a community that resents their presence.
"With no other means of supporting themselves, many are forced to turn to sex work, making them even more stigmatised and isolated."
Save the Children told the story of Hawa, a 16-year-old girl, who was twice captured when her village in Sierra Leone was overrun during the war, and forced into sex slavery.
"It was very sad when I came home and met my sisters because I felt that I was somehow discriminated against because I had been raped," she said.
Director general of Save the Children Mike Aaronson said: "When people picture conflict they think of men in bloody combat, but it's horrifyingly girls who are the hidden face of war.
"This appalling abuse of girls' rights demands urgent action. Its time to stop the war on children."