The DPI/NGO Conference held before the 2005 World Summit of Global Leaders drew more than 2697 registered NGO representatives from 1069 organizations with representations from 121 countries. Additionally there were 189 civil society organizations. The conference provided an opportunity for NGOs to present their expectations for the outcome of the 2005 World summit and a call to action to implement the Millennium Development goals. At the Opening Session, Mr. Jean Ping, President of the 59th Session of the General Assembly, spoke of the numerous challenges that humanity faces to build a better world. He discussed MDG #1 in which all UN members states have pledged to eradicate extreme poverty, and by 2015 to reduce by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger. He reminded us of this global call for action and warned that we must all wake up to the call of poverty. There should be no excuses in 2015!!
My report is on two workshops that I found extremely interesting and certainly enlightening. Both were on the topic of children living in countries affected by armed conflict, “the forgotten casualties of war.” Each workshop focused on a different aspect of the topic. One discussed the problems of child soldiers and their reintegration into society. The other workshop emphasized the apparent neglect in educating young people in emergencies, in regions devastated by armed conflict.
Wars, conflicts, and natural disasters worldwide are putting millions of children at risk. Since 1990, over 2 million children have died as a direct result of armed conflict. At least 6 million children have been permanently disabled, and more than one million have been orphaned or separated from their families. During conflict, families are often forced to flee their homes and children are more likely to get separated. It is in these circumstances that children are abducted or coerced into joining armed groups. The term ‘child soldier’ suggests only those children directly involved in fighting and carrying weapons. But children perform many roles. Some are scouts sent into enemy territory to gather information. Others work as porters and cooks. Like boys, girls take an active part in fighting and taking on many military duties. Girls accounted for 40% of all children who have been forcibly recruited or abducted into armed groups. Typically the vast majority of girls are raped and subjected to gender-based violence. The consequences have been devastating often leading to death, permanent injury or disability. Forced or unwanted pregnancies and or sexually transmitted diseases cause a high maternal and infant morality rate due to lack of healthcare.
One of the speakers at the workshop, Ambassador Joe Robert Pemagbi of Sierra Leone estimated that there are 300,000 children actively involved in armed conflict worldwide of which one third are in Africa. In Sierra Leone there are thousands of children roaming the streets – with no family values, no schooling, and surviving by using weapons. He stressed the importance of awareness of the plight of these children and programs on interventions for their rehabilitation, social integration and peace building.
Speakers representing “International Rescue Committee” and “Save the Children” discussed the problems girls face to be accepted back into society. Most girls who manage to escape or leave an armed group or who do make it home find their homecoming as depressing as their departure. They are often ostracized by their families and communities because they are seen as immoral and unclean. Left to fend for themselves in an element of hostility, they remain isolated physically and emotionally. Not surprisingly, the abuse and exploitation that girls suffer in armed groups and the stigma they face when they return to their families lead many to suicidal behavior. Moreover, it is not actually known what happens to many girls. For many, the future outside the armed camp is bleak – a choice between work, often as prostitutes in urban areas away from their homes, or going hungry. Thousands remain unaccounted for.