Press briefing by special representative for children and armed conflict

24-Oct-01

The Holy See had today deposited the instruments of ratification of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Archbishop Renato Raffaele Martino, Permanent Observer of the Holy See Mission to the United Nations, announced today in a joint Headquarters press briefing with Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

According to the most recent United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, an estimated 1 million children, mainly girls, were forced into the multi-billion dollar commercial sex trade every year, Archbishop Martino said. The Optional Protocol on the sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography explicitly prohibited the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and called for legal protection against the sexual exploitation of children, the transfer of their organs, and forced labour. The number of ratifications required for the Protocol to enter into force had just recently been reached, he said.

There were presently an estimated 300,000 children under the age of 18 acting as soldiers in armed conflict situations throughout the world, Archbishop Martino stressed. In the last ten years, 2 million children had been killed,6 million had been hurt, 10 million had been traumatized, and a million had been left orphaned because of armed conflict. The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict expanded the protection of children from recruitment for participation in armed conflict to the age of 18, and had reinforced the prohibition of the recruitment of children under that age by armed forces distinct from the State. He was pleased to announce that today, the Holy See was the seventh State to ratify this Protocol and that only three more States must ratify it before it could enter into force.

Archbishop Martino encouraged all other States to join in furthering the legal protection of children by ratifying or acceding to the protocols. He acknowledged that while codification was a legal guarantee, it did not give certainty of protection. True protection for children throughout the world came from the genuine love, care and concern that each person was called to give in recognizing all children as precious gifts of God.

Mr. Otunnu said it gave him great pleasure to hear the announcement of the ratification of the two optional protocols by the Holy See. That underscored, once again, the wonderful collaboration between the Catholic Church and the United Nations on the protection and the rehabilitation of war-affected children. The work of the Catholic Church on the ground had been remarkable in every war-torn country to which he had travelled . The Catholic Church was there, on the frontline, helping the war-affected children.

The total number of ratifications of the protocol on Children in Armed Conflict had now been brought to seven. He added that the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be number eight, however, there were some technical problems in the instruments that were brought for depositing. He hoped that the

Children and Armed Conflict Briefing- 2 -24 October 2001

ratification would take place very soon. In the campaign to bring into force the optional protocol there were two main goals. First, that before the end of this year there would be ten ratifications in place so that the protocol could come into force. Of course, there was a time-lag between the depositing of the instrument of the ratification and it becoming effective in juridical terms. The second goal was that the coming into force of the protocol would be achieved by the time of the Special Session on Children.

Asked whether a State could ratify the protocol without ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a whole, Archbishop Martino informed correspondents that the present protocol was subject to ratification or accession by any State, independent of that State’s status with the Convention itself.

A correspondent asked whether the Holy See could influence other countries to ratify the protocol on children involved in armed conflict, to which Mr. Otunnu replied that part of the work of the United Nations and the Vatican had been on how the Vatican could use its unique moral platform to influence other States to ratify the protocol. He added that the Holy See, through its representatives, had taken various measures to inject a momentum to the campaign for the ratification of the protocol.

Asked whether it was mostly guerrilla groups as opposed to governments that used child soldiers, Mr. Otunnu explained that child soldiers were used worldwide by most parties to conflicts. That could be States, a guerrilla group, or insurgent groups. It was probably true that child soldiers were more widely used by insurgent groups than by States. However, there were many examples of both States and insurgent groups using children. Speaking of the use of children in armed conflict was not limited to situations of war or civil conflict. Any young person below the age of 17 could not be recruited into a national army, and any young person below the age of 18 could not be made to participate in a conflict.

A correspondent asked what the main hurdles were in reintegrating former child soldiers back into the community. Mr. Otunnu said that adequate financial resources were needed to support the work by agents on the ground. When the release of child soldiers had been achieved, resources to care for them were vital. It was also essential to work with the local community to avoid the ostracism of those children, who had suffered traumatic and distorting experiences, from their communities of origin. Local communities and families needed to accept the return of children who had been abused and traumatized.