ICC Prosecutor marks International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers

Reprinted in full, “No child should be made to suffer such horrors,” the statement issued today by International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in commemoration of the 13th anniversary of the entry into force of the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict — a date known since then as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers:

2bensoudaThousands of children around the world continue to be used as soldiers and affected by the horrors of war.  Instead of a childhood filled with tranquillity and joy, learning and play, children are far too often the primary victims of armed conflict, where they are trained and forced to kill, rape, pillage, and undertake hard physical labour.  Their traumatisation should weigh heavily on our collective conscience, and cannot be left unabated.

The daily reality for these children, boys and girls, is both appalling and traumatic. Thrust into battle zones, they must struggle to survive or perish, often through violent deaths; where they are forced to witness or commit unspeakable acts of violence against others, military or civilian, men, women or children, at times, even against their own families. They may be exposed and fall victim to horrific sexual violence.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) mandates the ICC Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – crimes which shock the conscience of humanity.  The conscription, enlistment and use of child soldiers figure amongst the most reprehensible crimes under the Rome Statute.

There is no such thing in the Rome Statute as lawful conscription of children under the age of 15 into the armed forces or groups, or their enlistment irrespective of whether the child joins voluntarily or through compulsion. Those who recruit children or use them to take active part in hostilities are committing serious crimes and must be held accountable.

The law must be a cornerstone of protection for all children in war zones. On this International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, the world owes it to our children to renew its collective resolve to prevent and end impunity for these crimes.  This is not only a moral imperative and a legal duty under the Rome Statute, but necessary to ensure the success of future generations.  A crime against a child is an offence against all of humanity.

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