Alarmed at the continued widespread abuse of children in war zones, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling for tough new measures to penalise those guilty of atrocities.
The proposed measures, detailed in a report to the U.N. Security Council, include the imposition of travel restrictions on leaders and their exclusion from any governance structures and amnesty provisions, the imposition of arms embargoes, a ban on military assistance, and restriction on the flow of financial resources to warring parties.
"This report represents the launch of a comprehensive compliance regime to ensure the protection of millions of children who are being brutalised in situations of conflict," Annan says.
The study, which will be presented to the Security Council on Feb. 23, identifies six "grave violations" described as "egregious abuses against children".
These include killing or maiming of children; recruiting or using child soldiers; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape and other grave sexual violence against children; abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access for children.
Annan says there is a need to "transform words into deeds, protective instruments and standards into enforcement on the ground, and condemnation into accountability."
The secretary-general expects key U.N. and international bodies such as the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Commission on Human Rights, the International Criminal Court, and regional organisations and governments to take action against child abuse.
The study also expresses "grave concern" about recent reports of sexual exploitation and abuse of children by U.N. peacekeeping personnel -- specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"This is one of the most disturbing and grave incidents of abuse and exploitation of women and children," U.N. Under-Secretary-General Olara Otunnu, head of the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told reporters last week.
That such activities could be occurring "in our own house" was most alarming and required an end to impunity. Otunnu said the idea that U.N. personnel, including peacekeepers, would abuse their position to take advantage of local women and children was particularly troubling.
Conscious of the political sensitivities of member states, the report says the names of countries are only referred to in order to indicate the locations or situations where offending parties are committing violations.
The first list consists of national armies and/or armed groups that recruit or use children in situations of armed conflict (and are on the agenda of the Security Council). These include Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, Somalia and Sudan.
A second list includes national armies and/or armed groups that recruit or use children (and are not on the agenda of the Security Council). These include Colombia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
Otunnu said that while efforts over the past several years had yielded "significant advances" and had greatly increased global awareness of and advocacy for child protection, the situation "remained grave and unacceptable."
Perhaps the only silver lining, he said, was that within the last two years, the numbers had slightly decreased: from some 350,000 child soldiers worldwide to about 300,000.
That, he explained, was primarily due to either political transition or lessening of tensions in several countries, including Angola, Sierra Leone and southern Sudan.
Otunnu singled out two countries -- Sri Lanka and Nepal -- as causes for concern. In Sri Lanka, where there was currently no fighting but also no peace, the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continue to recruit children.
The report says the LTTE "has often carried out recruitment by force, abducting children while on their way to school or during religious festivities, and beating families and teachers who resisted the seizure of the children."
During 2004 alone, more than 1,000 cases of recruitment and re-recruitment were reported by the U.N. children's agency UNICEF. A high percentage of them were young girls.
Last year, a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) urged Annan to prepare an annual list of governments and armed groups that recruit or use child soldiers in violation of international obligations.
Such a regular list, the coalition said, would keep violators constantly "named and shamed" for not protecting children during military conflicts.
The coalition included International Save the Children Alliance, Norwegian Refugee Council, Care International, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, World Vision International and Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
The 1990 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sets the legal minimum age for recruitment at 15.
But an Optional Protocol to the CRC, which came into force in February 2003, outlawed the involvement of children under 18 in any hostilities and sets strict standards for the recruitment of those under 18.