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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Press Relations Office > Press Releases (Other) > 2002 > December
Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 24, 2002


The Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

The United States has officially become a State Party to the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict by depositing its ratification instruments at the United Nations today. The Senate unanimously provided its advice and consent to ratification and President Bush signed the instruments of ratification. This illustrates the commitment of the United States to the protection of children by working with the international community to end abuses and recognize universal human rights norms. This protocol seeks to protect children from the harmful and widespread impact of armed conflict.

  • It is A Global Problem: At any one time, over 300,000 children are used in armed conflict as soldiers, messengers, guards, runners, bearers, spies, cooks, and sex slaves. While the problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, it also exists in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s December 2002 report to the UN Security Council lists 23 parties, including governments and/or rebel groups in Afghanistan, Burundi, Congo, Liberia and Somalia, that recruit and use child soldiers in violation of internationally accepted standards. Children as young as ten years old have been abducted from their homes and forced into situations where they witness, and sometimes perpetrate, violence against their own families and communities. Demobilized child soldiers often need to be relocated in new communities and provided with assistance for their physical and psychological traumas as well as interrupted education.
  • It Requires A Global Response: The Optional Protocol was adopted by the UN General Assembly on May 25, 2000 and came into force February 12, 2002. One hundred ten countries have signed while 42 (including the United States) have ratified it.
  • Provisions of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict: States Parties agree, inter alia, to –
    • take all feasible measures to ensure that persons under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities;
    • establish 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment into their armed forces;
    • declare the minimum age for voluntary enlistment at time of deposit (in the U.S., 17 years old with parental consent);
    • prohibit and criminalize recruitment of persons under the age of 18 by armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State;
    • take all feasible measures to ensure that in the event of hostilities within their jurisdictions, persons recruited or used contrary to protocol jurisdiction are demobilized;
    • cooperate in the implementation of the protocol, including the rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons who are victims of acts contrary to the protocol.

The Departments of State and Defense were deeply involved in the negotiations leading to the adoption of the protocol.

• The Department of Defense has determined that it can comply with the protocol while fully protecting U.S. military recruitment and readiness programs.

• U.S. law already prohibits the compulsory recruitment of persons under the age of 18 for any type of military service.

• U.S. law also prohibits accepting voluntary recruits below the age of 17.

• The protocol does not affect the U.S. military’s ability to carry out its national security missions.

The United States supports programs to assist in the rehabilitation of child soldiers.

Two relevant funds that support programs through grants and cooperative agreements are the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, and the Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund. Money from both funds are usually transferred to USAID's overseas missions, where grants and cooperative agreements are negotiated and managed.

1. Displaced Children and Orphans Fund: The fund focuses on developing and supporting programs that relate to children affected by war. (The fund also supports children orphaned by AIDS, street children, and children with disabilities.) The fund has contributed more than $74,000,000 to programs in 28 countries since 1989. Most activities are carried out by nongovernmental organizations. The fund has programs in Angola, Brazil, Congo, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kosovo, Liberia, Malawi, Peru, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia.

2. Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund: Also established in 1989, this fund works in war-affected countries to provide a dedicated source of financial and technical assistance for civilian victims of war. The fund supports programs that provide prosthetic services and programs that follow up such services with patient monitoring. The fund has provided over $60 million in more than 16 countries. The fund supports programs in Angola, Cambodia, Central America, Ethiopia, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Vietnam.

For additional information: http://www.unicef.org/crc/oppro.htm

Released on December 24, 2002

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