HC Deb 19 January 2004 vol 416 cc928-9W
Mr. Bercow

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the extent of the use of child soldiers in(a) the Democratic Republic of Congo, (b) Burundi, (c) Rwanda and (d) Uganda. [148163]

Hilary Benn

The UK condemns unequivocally the use of child soldiers. The fourth report of the UN Secretary-General on the use of children in armed conflict has recently been issued and will inform debate on this issue in the UN Security Council later this month.

The UK discusses the issue with a range of UN bodies, particularly the Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict, and works with the UN system to eradicate the use of child soldiers, including our support for a UNICEF programme of capacity building to strengthen its response in emergency situations. A key element of this programme is improving its advocacy on the situation of children affected by armed conflict at all levels.

For DRC the UK is providing £750,000 to help establish child protection networks, and Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) mechanisms in each province and at national level. Our support will help UNICEF in launching preparations and commencing activities for the demobilisation and reintegration of children associated with armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

UNICEF reported in September 2003 that it was thought there were then about 1,000 child soldiers serving in Burundi's regular army, 1,500 in the pro-government youth militia and 500 in the rebel movements, though the exact number would only be available when the demobilisation programme was implemented.

Burundi ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, though the optional protocol banning the use of children under 18 in armed conflict was not signed at that time—the text of this has recently been submitted to the National Assembly for approval.

In Rwanda the UK is supporting research that is being undertaken by Save the Children to determine why more girl child soldiers from the ex-armed groups in the DRC are not presenting themselves for demobilisation and repatriation to Rwanda. With respect to Uganda, one of the terrible features of the conflict there is that abducted children themselves become the combatants. We have raised our concerns about the safety of those abducted with President Museveni and senior Ministers. The UK has provided financial support to UNICEF and Save the Children to rehabilitate children who have escaped from the Lords Resistance Army. Also we have discussed with the Ugandan government reports of under-age soldiers being recruited by the government defence units in the North. The Government of Uganda has assured us that they are co-operating with UNICEF to identify and demobilise the recruits. Our High Commission in Kampala is monitoring the situation.

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