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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

as passive victims. At the same time, these examples exposed a new form of child vulnerability in violent situations. The Cape Town Principles of 1997 34 provided the first official definition of a ‘child soldier’, as:

‘any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and forced marriage.’ (UNICEF 1997:12)

As child soldiers were – and to a great extent still are – stereotyped as adolescent boys, the mention of girls in this convention is significant. It is also significant that no distinction is made in the Cape Town Principles between children carrying arms and those providing other services to armed groups: all are defined as ‘child soldiers’.

Since 1997, a number of conventions and resolutions have addressed aspects of children and youth and conflict. Article 9 of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court declares enlistment of children under age 15 to be a war crime. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2002) raised the minimum age of involvement in warfare to 18. In 1999, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) included forced labour recruitment of children under 18 in Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, thereby holding armed movements which recruit children accountable as employers, as well as accountable in humanitarian law, for youth involvement in violent conflict.

A series of United Nations Security Council Resolutions addresses young people and armed conflict on various aspects of the issue. These resolutions make it clear that children (boys and girls) are to be protected from all forms of harm, including gender-based and sexual violence, during armed conflict. They also commit the international community to ensuring that the needs of the girl child are met during armed conflict and its aftermath, that girls are included in all disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes, and that gender mainstreaming is applied to all interventions related to children and armed conflict.

UN Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict

1999: UNSCR 1261 condemns the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict with bodily harm and murder, sexual violence, displacement, abduction and recruitment. It urges parties involved in conflict to ‘take special measures to protect children, in particular girls, from rape and other forms of sexual abuse and gender- based violence in situations of armed conflict and to take into account the special

The Cape Town Principles were the outcome of a symposium organised by UNCEF and the NGO Working Group on the Convention of the Rights of the Child, in Cape Town in April 99. The symposium addressed the prevention of recruitment of child soldiers into armed forces in Africa, and their demobilisation and social reintegration. 3

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