BEIRUT: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has implicated political factions in Lebanon as recruiting and using children for armed violence and political mobilization. In his annual report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict, Ban on Wednesday documented serious violations against children in Lebanon and 19 other countries, and listed 56 other governments or rebel militias as recruiting or purposefully targeting children during the period between September 2007 and December 2008.
There was no evidence of child recruitment by the Lebanese Armed Forces or Lebanon's other regular forces, the UN chief said, but noted "reports of use of Palestinian children by Palestinian armed factions and groups in the Palestinian refugee camps." He made particular reference to the 2007 Nahr al-Bared conflict, where Islamist group Fatah al-Islam engaged the Lebanese army in deadly fighting that reduced the camp to rubble.
A 2005 Security Council resolution established a group to monitor and report on the use of child soldiers or on the purposeful targeting of children in conflict. In his report, Ban urged the council expand its mandate to include sexual violence.
"Widespread and systematic rape and sexual violence against children, both boys and girls, is increasingly a characteristic of conflict, often perpetrated in a rule-of-law vacuum," the UN chief said.
Armed political factions in Lebanon made widespread use of child soldiers during the country's 1975-1990 Civil War, but the practice petered out with the end of hostilities. There have, however, been allegations that children were recruited by rival factions in the May 7, 2008 clashes, which killed at least 65 people, and there are fears that child recruitment will resurface if a new conflict emerges. Poverty in politically volatile areas is a crucial factor in facilitating the recruitment of child combatants, child-rights organizations say.
Lebanon has yet to ratify the 2002 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which raises the minimum age for engage in armed conflict to 18, although a proposal for ratification was submitted to Parliament in February of that year, the report noted.
No further measures to ratify the protocol had been made since the UN's Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy visited Beirut in April 2007, despite receiving assurances from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Hizbullah's Parliamentary Deputy Mohammad Raad, the report said.
"The widespread and easy availability of illicit small arms and light weapons in conflict and troubled areas continues to represent a major factor in enabling the recruitment and use of child soldiers," Ban said. "These weapons are increasingly cheap and simple to operate and carry, therefore easily placed in the hands of children who can be quickly trained to use them."
Children in Lebanon will also continue to face serious threats from some one million unexploded munitions left over from war with Israel in 2006 "because of the unprecedented usage of cluster munitions in residential areas, villages, schools and agricultural lands, and as long as there is lack of information on the cluster bomb strike data and the clearance of the munitions," added the report.
When contacted by The Daily Star on Friday, a Human Rights Watch representative said political groups in Lebanon had not made substantive use of child combatants in the last few years. "In 2008 we did not document any systematic use of child soldiers," said the group's senior researcher Nadim Houry.