The Optional Protocol to The Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, a milestone treaty in the protection of children in armed conflict, became legally binding on February 12, 2002.
The treaty is expected to bring forceful leverage to the global campaign to end the use of child soldiers in armed conflict. This practice currently ensnares 300,000 children worldwide.
The Optional Protocol outlaws the direct involvement of children under age 18 in hostilities. It also bans compulsory recruitment (drafting) below that age.
In addition, it requires governments to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment to above 15 (the current minimum). If they still allow voluntary recruitment below age 18, States must strictly ensure that such recruitment is truly voluntary. The treaty also bans all recruitment below age 18 by non-governmental forces, such as rebel and paramilitary groups and security forces.
The Optional Protocol also tackles the pressing issue of how to help former child soldiers reintegrate into society.
The Optional Protocol has been signed by 14 states: Andorra, Bangladesh, Canada, Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Holy See, Iceland, Kenya, Monaco, New Zealand, Panama, Romania, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
UNICEF urges all states that have not yet ratified the treaty to do so immediately, preferably at the UN's upcoming Special Session on Children in May.
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