Ongoing armed conflicts continued to make newspaper headlines in 2007. The situation in Sudan remained very problematic, violence against civilians of the neighbouring states Chad and The Central African Republic increased, while fighting in Eastern Congo and Somalia intensified. There were new outbursts of violence, for example in Kenya during the elections; however, there were also positive developments in Northern Uganda where thousands of refugees returned home, and in Sierra Leone where there was a peaceful change of power.
Tension in Asia, the Middle East and South America
Riots broke out in Asia, while armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka intensified. The murder of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan will have a lasting effect on the region. It was also shocking to see the violent reaction towards demonstrations of the monks in Myanmar. The situation in the Middle East remained extremely tense. The deadlock situation of the presidential elections in Lebanon worsened. The division between Hamas and Fatah combined with ongoing violence, eclipsed sporadic peace attempts between Israelis and Palestinians. In Colombia, the conflict between guerrilla troops and government troops continued; there was no breakthrough in the peace negotiations or any hope for a solution to the dire humanitarian situation of millions of homeless people.
All these events in 2007 had a huge impact on the lives of millions of children worldwide. Systematic attacks on schoolchildren, teachers and school buildings increased in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rapes were the order of the day in The Democratic Republic of Congo and The Central African Republic. In 2007, children also had to fight as child soldiers, and many were abused by rebel armies as porters, spies or sex slaves. Many children have had to flee war and seek shelter elsewhere. However, children in refugee camps are often especially vulnerable and an easy target for recruiters from rebel armies, as in Sri Lanka and The Democratic Republic of Congo. War Child finds this unacceptable and therefore started a special campaign in 2007.
In 2007, worldwide attention was raised for the problem of child soldiers. This is a special development to which War Child has made contributions in its own way. In 2007, the Special Representative of Armed Conflict, Sri Lankan Radhika Coomaraswamy, visited a number of countries where child soldiers are being recruited, such as Sudan and The Democratic Republic of Congo. She describes in her reports the gross violence against children and the danger to which aid workers are exposed, as well as the way in which child soldiers can be rehabilitated and reintegrated. Her work and the attention it has received gave rise to the Child Soldiers Campaign that started in 2007 (please read chapter 6 for more information).
The Machel study
These topics were also discussed in the strategic revision of the 1996 report ‘Impact of Armed Conflict on Children’, better known as the Machel study. The revision paid attention to the problems of children in conflict areas; however, it also points to new challenges for the coming years, including the development of new international standards to prevent severe violations of child rights. Another important event was the international conference ‘Free Children from War’. 58 countries signed the ‘Paris Declaration’ and the ‘Paris Principles’ in Paris with which they committed themselves to the prevention of the recruitment of child soldiers and their reintegration. The Netherlands also took part; this enabled War Child to take this matter up with the government. The long awaited ratification of the Optional Protocol by The Netherlands, which makes the recruiting of children under the age of 18 illegal, unfortunately did not come to pass in 2007.
UN study ‘Violence Study’
In October 2007, the ‘Violence Study’ was published by the independent expert professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro for the UN. The report gives a detailed portrayal of the nature, the extent and the causes of violence against children, and it also gives recommendations on how to prevent any type of violence against children. One of the recommendations, the appointment of a Special Representative of violence against children, was put into action at the end of 2007 by the General Assembly.
Child rights matured
Finally, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child celebrated its 18th birthday in 2007. The convention explained which rights and duties children have and who is responsible for their realisation. Almost every country ratified it, which means that it has to be converted into national law. All stipulations are aimed at enforcing the right to live and a healthy development for all children, all over the world. This convention is the basis for War Child’s policy and work. For more information, please go to www.crin.org.