International Day Of The African Child

New York, 15 June 2007– On Saturday June 16, the sixteenth International Day of the African Child will be commemorated. On this occasion, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, wishes to share her concerns regarding the situation of the African Child in armed conflict through three stories.

"Eva, Abou and Ishmael's testimonials echo the voices of tens of thousands of children in Africa. They highlight the importance of supporting the struggle against impunity for grave violations against children during war", said the Special Representative.

Eva and the suffering of the girl child

13 year old Eva is pretty and skinny and the way she carries her 4 months old baby shows the burden of her suffering. She was abducted on her way to school, gang raped, subject to forced nudity, and used as a sexual slave by a dissident armed group in Eastern Congo for more then 2 years. After several attempts, she managed to escape and she realized that she was pregnant. Stigmatized and rejected by the communities, she roamed from one village to another before finding shelter in the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. The Center takes care of her baby while she goes to school but when you ask her about her future, she bends her beautiful face. "Her silent answer and her whole story is the most heartbreaking one that I have ever heard", commented Ms. Coomaraswamy after meeting with her during her visit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Abou and the integration of former child soldiers

Abou is a boy from Sierra Leone, abducted by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) from his school in Kenema. He was only 11 years old at the time. Four years later, Abou had become a killer – a known and feared commander of the RUF rebels – one of the youngest. He was demobilized by the UN when he was 15 and received amnesty. Although he was accepted back, it was clear that many in the community were still afraid of the boy and he was quite isolated. Six months after being re-united with his family Abou disappeared. Three years later, Abou was among the children disarmed and demobilized in Cote d'Ivoire. He told a story of leaving his community in Sierra Leone because he was "haunted by bad spirits", and of being re-recruited to fight for LURD in Liberia. He later went as a mercenary to Cote d'Ivoire together with other LURD fighters. In an interview with UN staff, Abou explained, "I left because what I really know how to do well is fight and be a soldier, but there is peace in Sierra Leone".

Ishmael, an example of resilience, a source of hope, a reason to take action

Ishmael is a young man, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, adopted by an American mother who went to school and university in the United States graduating with honors. He wrote a book about his life "A Long Way Gone" and it is becoming a best seller. "His moving piece, painful in parts, is full of wisdom and understanding, pointing to the fact that children can heal and when they do they can become a beacon of light for all of us. It is our duty to assist them and learn from them", said Ms. Coomaraswamy in her statement at the Paris Conference "Free Children from War" in February 2007.

The trial of Charles Taylor, former Liberian President by the Special Court of Sierra Leone has started and the trial of Thomas Lubanga (DRC) by the International Criminal Court continues. Ms. Coomaraswamy reiterates that the fight against impunity for violators is the key to end grave violations against children thanks to its deterrence effect.

"Children deserve protection. Violations of children's rights must stop, impunity must end", urges Radhika Coomaraswamy.

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For further information, please contact:

Laurence Gerard, Liaison Officer, OSRSG for Children Affected by Armed Conflict, UNHQ, New York. Phone: 1 212 963 0984 – gerardl@un.org – Website: www.un.org/children/conflict