HC Deb 12 May 1999 vol 331 cc305-6
6. Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West)

What measures her Department is taking to protect children's rights in areas affected by war. [82952]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

We are working with the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative for children and armed conflict, key United Nations agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross to protect the rights of children affected by armed conflict. The important task now is to get beyond general declarations of good intent and to take practical measures better to protect children affected by war, especially child soldiers and abducted children.

Dr. Naysmith

Does my right hon. Friend agree that international pressure should be brought to bear on Governments who employ child soldiers; and that that pressure may usefully come from other Governments, NGOs and Churches?

Clare Short

I agree very much. However, in the list of countries that have child soldiers, which includes Angola, Afghanistan and Sudan, we see some of the most intractable conflicts in the world, so we have to get more specific and unite in putting pressure on individual Governments. I invite my hon. Friend and the House to put pressure on the Government of Sudan over their disgraceful support for the Lord's Resistance Army, which captures and abducts children from northern Uganda: the girls are abused sexually and the boys are forced to kill members of their own families. The Government of Sudan should be denounced by every decent person in the world—they must stop supporting the Lord's Resistance Army and return every one of those children to their families.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I do not know whether, in her busy day, the Secretary of State has had time to look at the UNHCR website, where it was reported this morning that children were arriving in Albania with gunshot wounds. There is increasing concern about the Albanian families—about 500,000 of them—who remain in Kosovo, but have been displaced from their homes and are desperate for supplies. In the United States, Julia Taft has announced that from about 27 May, the US is to start air drops, having overcome the Pentagon's objections. However, Bill Frelick of the US Committee for Refugees has said that Air drops indicate the level of desperation we're in". He believes that the only reliable way of getting food where it is needed is through the use of ground troops. Does the Secretary of State agree with him?

Clare Short

I had not heard about children with gunshot wounds, but I shall make inquiries. We are extremely worried about displaced families in Kosovo, and we and others have been doing all in our power to get information about their condition: for example, we monitor carefully the state of refugees coming across the border, because that tells us something about levels of nutrition and so on. We have considered the use of air drops from the beginning, but they can be disastrous: for example, when they were tried in northern Iraq we learned that they sometimes kill people, feed aggressor forces or cause people to come out of hiding with the result that they are shot and killed. We do not judge that air drops should be used now, but we are monitoring the situation carefully. Refugees coming over the border are still in relatively good shape, but we are worried and we are watching very closely indeed. The real answer is to defeat Serb aggression, get the refugees home and get humanitarian help into Kosovo.

Back to