More Children Going Straight from Playpen to Front Lines ; Fewer Child Soldiers in Latin America and Mideast, Says New Report, but Africa, Parts of Asia Still Recruiting

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They peer hauntingly from television screens and the pages of newspapers, mournful-eyed children in combat fatigues, shouldering murderous weapons.

From Africa to Asia to the Middle East, they seem to go directly from the playpen to the front lines, leapfrogging childhood.

In war zones, many of these child soldiers are abused - beaten, raped. Others, in turn, are abusive - programmed to maim and kill even innocent civilians.

Much of mankind is struggling to banish children like these from fighting in armed conflict. A new report, released today, details progress and regression. "The situation is improving in some regions of the world," says Jo Becker, chair of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, an umbrella group of several human rights organizations, which put out the report. The number of child soldiers is decreasing in Latin America, the former Yugoslavia, and the Middle East.

But in other areas - Africa, parts of Asia, and the Pacific - "a new generation" of children is being turned into soldiers, says Ms. Becker, who is also children's rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, a member of the coalition.

Worldwide, more than 300,000 children - girls and boys under 18 - are under arms and in the front lines, the report concludes. Several hundred thousand others, while not actually fighting, have been recruited by government armies and a host of non-government armed camps.

Beyond such massive statistics are many smaller ones. In a positive move, Sierra Leone rebels - known for forcing children to fight for them and maim civilians - have released more than 800 of their child soldiers in the past month. The youngest was 8.

Having children in the army is not new. …


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