Murder, rape, assault, sexual slavery and forced working are being used all the time on girls and boys during fighting, said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, calling for change. Speaking in New York, yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize winner said children have a place – and a voice – in helping to build a stable future.“The seemingly endless cycle of violence and conflict, turning children into instruments of war, must be stopped,” he said. Launching a book by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Harvard University, Archbishop Tutu added: “The death and suffering of children in times of conflict and instability make it clear that the world has failed to prioritize the rights and well-being of children.”
The book, Children and Transitional Justice looks at how the range of international courts, truth commissions and traditional processes can be used to hold people responsible to account for crimes against children. It also focuses on protecting children’s rights and including them in the country’s post-war recovery plan. “Children have to be involved,” said Archbishop Tutu. “What are the things which happened to them and could have been prevented? What can we learn from them? Children’s involvement can change our understanding of war and peace, and inform decisions about the future.”
Children have always been caught up in warfare. They usually have little choice but to go through the same horrors as their parents—as casualties or even soldiers. And children are particularly vulnerable in conflict. When food supplies run short, children are the hardest hit, because their growing bodies need steady supplies of essential nutrients. When water supplies have been contaminated, children have the least resistance to the risk of disease. And the trauma of exposure to violence and brutal death has emotionally scarred generations of young people for the rest of their lives. “I am appalled at the things that we adults have done in turning the world into a hostile place for children,” the human rights champion told UNICEF. “We turn children into labourers; we turn children into child soldiers; we traffic in children; we use children as sex slaves – but that is not the total picture. There are organizations such as UNICEF who try to ameliorate and make better the situation of children.” World leaders must provide the resources for all children to be vaccinated and get to school, and make it impossible for adults to turn them into slaves said Archbishop Tutu giving three key points of action to improve life for children.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children