NEW YORK, 22 February (Office of the Special Representative) – The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu has welcomed an announcement by Pope John Paul II that he is devoting the month of February to prayers for an end to the exploitation of children in armed conflict.

As I travel in war-ravaged areas, churches and other faith-based organizations are frequently the only institutions left to tend to bring comfort and relief to the suffering, often at great danger to the individuals involved , said Mr. Otunnu. Churches understand the full horror of the use and targeting of children in war and I welcome the attention and moral weight that

Pope John Paul II is bringing to the campaign to end child soldiering,.

Following the Pope s annual message on the World Day of Peace, on 1 January, wherein he called for a more respectful and proactive dialogue among civilizations, Never Again Child Soldiers is the theme of the Holy Father s prayers for this month and one he commends to all the faithful.

Mr. Otunnu added that a coalition of United Nations agencies, interested governments and non-governmental organizations has been working over several years to pass the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which raises the age limit for compulsory recruitment and deployment to 18 years. The goal now is to get 10 governments to ratify the Protocol by May so that the Protocol will come into force.

For more information, contact Tonderai Chikuhwa. , Office of the Special Representative (212) 963-3462.