Coalition Wants End to Kid Soldiers

Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Luong Ung was 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge brought an abrupt end to her childhood.

Taken from an orphanage by the bloody Cambodian regime, she was given a rifle that hung below her knees and taught to kill with guns, hoes, sickles and axes. She learned to decapitate her victims.

``I was full of anger and rage. I was perfect for the Khmer Rouge.'' But she added: ``We are not monsters. We were taught to do this.''

Ung, 30 and now an author, survived the atrocity, making it to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually to the United States. Others not so lucky became the littlest victims of wars they were forced to join as soldiers.

On Thursday, world leaders gathered for the U.N. Millennium Summit remembered some of those victims in a children's war memorial that was unveiled at UNICEF.

The traveling exhibit, which lists the names of child soldiers lost in war, is a tangible reminder of the ``real children who were killed, wounded and disappeared,'' said Jo Becker, chairwoman of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

``They were denied their childhood, their future, and sometimes their very lives.''

Today, more than 300,000 children under 18 are fighting in more than 30 countries. Most are teen-agers, but many are 10 or even younger, the coalition said.

The London-based coalition, consisting of groups in 30 countries, is urging countries to adopt an amendment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would ban use of children under 18 in armed conflicts by governments and armed groups.

The campaign got under way two years ago, and the amendment was adopted in May by the U.N. General Assembly. So far, more than 30 countries — including the United States — have signed on. But only Bangladesh and Canada have taken the necessary next step of ratifying the measure. The measure must be ratified by at least 10 countries for it to take effect, but even then, it will only affect the signatories.

Though children as soldiers is nothing new, they have never been so widely used, Becker said. In part, that is due to the changing nature of war — where battlefields are often in neighborhoods and communities — as well as the availability of lightweight weapons.

Child soldiers often get the dirtiest jobs in war. They lay and clear land mines, serve as sex slaves, and are used to commit atrocities against their own families.

Many are recruited from the poorest, least educated families, with the allure of alcohol, drugs or prestige, the coalition said.


Associated Press Writer Peter Muello contributed to this report.