The Plight of Children in Armed Conflict

May 5, 2015 - This was an ordinary Tuesday for most of us in the world, but for the children of Central African Republic (CAR), the decision taken on this day will have a significant impact on the direction that their lives take in the future. Or simply put, it will mean that they actually have a future.

On this day, armed factions in CAR agreed to free all child soldiers and other children used as sex slaves or menial workers. According to UNICEF, the pact signed by the eight main militia groups in the CAR covers an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 children. Additionally, the armed groups also pledged to end the recruitment of children.

This is a momentous decision not solely for the Africa region but for all nations and citizens of the world. There are about 2.2 billion children in the world today and more than half of the world's population of 7 billion is under the age of 25. However, it is not just numbers that call our attention. What is the state of the world's children and how are they dispersed across the planet?

As a young person from Bangladesh, I am heavily invested and concerned about the plight of the children and the youth. We know that most of the world's children and youth are located in developing countries where economic, social, political, ethnic or religious factors impact their lives. In Bangladesh, which has one of the highest populations of the world, there are 57 million children and about 80 million youth, most of who do not have access to basic rights and services including food, education, healthcare among others.

Seeing numerous children homeless and desperate in the busy streets of Dhaka is disconcerting but the thought of using children in war as primarily child soldiers, or even sex slaves and menial workers, is absolutely horrifying. Children are those members of our society who deserve the greatest protection and instead of guaranteeing their safety, government and opposition groups, including armed rebel groups are placing children in the frontline of danger.

Research shows that early childhood is one of the most crucial times in an individual's life as it lays the foundation for the child's future development and happiness. Children need to be loved, nurtured, supported and provided a safe and secure environment. The rights of children need to be protected, respected and fulfilled. The use of children in war, on the contrary, exposes the child to hostile environments rife with fear, harassment, violence and death. This molds their mindsets in such a manner that they become desensitized to the losses and the bloodshed.

Whether the children are coerced, whether they are acting out of revenge, whether they are merely trying to ensure their survival is not our primary concern but what we do to ensure that they are not in this dangerous situation is what is most important. And by we, I mean governments, civil society, communities, families, parents, guardians and teachers among others.

We need to help children and youth build a tangible stake in their future, and ensure that they have equal access to food and nutrition, health, comprehensive education, decent employment as their senior counterparts. We need to ensure that minors, children and youth from vulnerable communities and developing countries have access to the same rights, services and living conditions as their Western counterparts. The issue of gender and discrimination is also an essential area of consideration. Girl child soldiers, in particular, are at risk of rape and sexual abuse.

I believe that the children and the youth are the true actors of the sustainable development process; they are open-minded, energetic, innovative, dedicated and, given the right support, have tremendous potential to achieve positive change. They hold the key to a brighter tomorrow and hence it is time we urgently address the issue of children in war.