Petition 80561

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Child Soldiers (80561-C2-R66)

Amend Resolution No. 66.  
Delete present text. Replace with the following:  
“Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. (Luke 18:16 NRSV)
Children represent the future of human civilization and the future of every society. To permit them to be used as pawns of warfare, whether as targets or perpetrators, is to cast a shadow on the future.
As armed conflict proliferates around the world, increasing number of children are exposed to the brutalities of war. In numerous countries, boys and girls are recruited as child soldiers by armed forces and groups, either forcibly or voluntarily. Reports by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reveal:
   The majority of the world’s child soldiers are involved in a variety of armed political groups. These include government-backed paramilitary groups, militias, and self-defense units operating with government support in many conflict zones. Others include armed groups opposed to central government rule, groups composed of ethnic, religious and other minorities; and clan-based or factional groups fighting governments and each other to defend territory and resources.
   Most child soldiers are aged between 14 and 18. Children as young as 8 years of age are being forcibly recruited, coerced and induced to become combatants. The children most likely to become soldiers are from impoverished and marginalized backgrounds of separated from their families.
   Hundreds of thousands of under-18 year olds are estimated to have become a part of armed forces in at least 60 countries. While thousands were recruited, others were forcibly conscripted in military roundups to replenish numbers in unpopular armies. Still others were enlisted in countries where the lack of a functioning birth registration system made it impossible to verify the age of recruits and ensure protection of under-18 year olds from active military service. Forced abductions, sometimes of large numbers of children, continue to occur in some countries.
   Sometimes, children become soldiers in order to survive. A military unit can be something of a refuge, serving as a kind of surrogate family. Children may join if they believe that this is the only way to guarantee regular meals, clothing or medical attention. Parents may encourage their daughters to become soldiers if their marriage prospects are poor.
Much has been achieved to stop the use of child soldiers since the General Conference adopted a resolution on the matter in 2000. Substantial progress has been made in establishing an international legal and policy framework for protecting children from involvement in armed conflict. The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children came into force in 2002. It sets 18 as the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities, for compulsory recruitment by governments and for all recruitment into armed groups. The International Criminal Court defines all recruitment of children under the age of 15, by governments and armed groups, and their active participation in hostilities as a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflict. Central Conferences in Africa, such as the Liberia Conference, have initiated programs to rehabilitate and integrate ex-combatant children for productive and peaceful life in their families and communities.
The use of children as soldiers is abhorrent and unacceptable. The General Conference of The United Methodist Church urges the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries to:
   work with international organizations, faith groups and other non-governmental organizations ban the use of child soldiers
   urge governments to sign the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
   promote and advocate for government funding of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration programs specifically aimed at child soldiers, taking particular account of the needs of former girl soldiers provide financial assistance to Central Conferences for programs to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers into their families and communities.