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"Christmas is for Children", goes the saying - unless of course you are a child soldier in Darfur...

My youngest child is 12 years old. We have - like many other families around the world - been happily getting ready for Christmas over the last couple of days.  Amidst the comfort we are fortunate enough to share, I find it hard to imagine a world where at 12, my youngest would be given a gun and forced to march to war.  And yet here I am, living in such a world.

Today I read - yet again - of the increased numbers of child soldiers, this time in Darfur.  In Darfur, which has hosted such horror and tragedy for the last five years, it is perhaps no surprise that so many thousands of children have been drafted into action. But is it not just in Darfur. Elsewhere in the world, children are forced into military service or used in some way to further conflict. In May this year, in case you missed it, the Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers published its global report on the use of children by governments, rebels, militia and others around the world.  It makes grim reading and you feel pretty powerless to act by the end. But despite the grim read, we can all do something to help  and, if you feel so moved, I would urge you to at least trawl the Coalition's site and look at some of the things that can be done to chip away at the circumstances that cause our young and vulnerable to be exploited and damaged in this way.

This small excerpt from the report, gives an indication as to the scope of the problem:

...the Coalition’s research reveals a number of disturbing findings that make it clear that the efforts to date have been insufficient.

The first of these findings is perhaps the most stark. It is this: when armed conflict breaks out, reignites or intensifies, children will almost inevitably become involved as soldiers. The Central African Republic, Chad, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan (Darfur) are all cases in point.

Next, efforts to demobilize children during conflict have met with only limited success. Peace remains the main hope for securing the release of child soldiers from armed forces and groups, a fact that further reinforces the importance of child protection being integral to peace negotiations, as well as the need for explicit provisions relating to child soldiers in ceasefire and peace agreements.

The impact of efforts to end child soldier recruitment and use by armed groups has been similarly limited. Armed groups in at least 24 countries located in every region of the world were known to have recruited under-18s and many have used them in hostilities. Many have proved resistant to pressure and persuasion. Their widely diverse characters, aims and methods, and the varied environments in which they operate militate against generic solutions. Effective strategies must be multifaceted and context-specific. Above all, they must address root causes. Poor governance and its effects, including impoverishment, inequality, discrimination and human rights abuses, are all known to contribute to the risk that children will be recruited by armed groups. While such conditions persist, children will remain vulnerable to involvement in armed forces and groups.

The report is only published every few years.  Perhaps by taking some time out from the turkey we could each play a small part by doing something that might create hope - and peace - for these children.

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