New York, 1 October 2007 - "We have a special obligation and responsibility towards children. Their protection must be of special concern to us. Child soldiers suffer the most severe damage to body and soul. They are deprived of their childhood and all future opportunities. Instead of going to school, they learn how to handle war and weapons. Close international cooperation and sustainable support for the countries concerned in fighting against the deployment of child soldiers are therefore indispensable," said State Secretary Hans Winkler at a conference on child soldiers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Winkler expressed his special thanks to France and UNICEF for their continued intensive support and the implementation of the obligations concerning the protection of children entered into force in Paris last year.
More than two million children have lost their lives in armed conflicts in the past decade. Some 20 million children have been displaced or are refugees. According to latest estimates roughly 300,000 children are unlawfully deployed worldwide by parties to a conflict. Among them there are also many girls who have been abducted and have become victims of sexual violence. "The protection of children in armed conflicts has always been an important concern of Austrian foreign policy, in particular within the framework of the United Nations and the EU. In bilateral development cooperation programmes we support numerous projects for the protection of children in conflict situations and their return to their families and their community. Austrian participants in international missions receive special training for the protection of children during their missions," emphasised Winkler.
At the European level Austria has achieved the explicit inclusion of the protection of children in the mandates of EU special envoys and EU peace missions for their deployment in crisis regions. "Austria will continue to advocate increased measures for the protection of children involved in armed conflicts. What also seems vitally important to me is strict observation and reporting of violations of the rights of children in conflict situations to the UN Security Council," continued the State Secretary.
"The legal basis for the protection of children in conflicts is already in place. However, it is also vitally important to implement it swiftly in order to put an end to the impunity of deploying child soldiers. Those who recruit children and send them into battle must be called to account without exception," affirmed Winkler, paying tribute in this context to the important role of the International Criminal Court and various special tribunals.
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