UNIC Pretoria supports 5th annual Francophonie festival with exhibit on child soldiers

Pretoria, 20 March – In a call to raise awareness of the worldwide phenomenon of child soldiers, UNIC Pretoria provided support to the High Commission of Canada in Pretoria as well as the Alliance Française of Pretoria to display a photographic exhibition entitled “Children of War”: Broken Childhood”.

Produced originally by the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the exhibition will form part of the month-long Francophonie festival at the Alliance de Française in Pretoria from 20 March to 17 April 2014.

Accompanying the opening of the exhibition on 20 March was a film screening on child soldiers entitled, War Witch (French: Rebelle). With over 130 people in attendance, the film was followed by a panel discussion on the topic, moderated by journalist and broadcaster, Jean-Jaques Cornish. Giving an account of their different experiences and expertise on the topic of child soldiers, the two panel members, Patrizia Benvenuti, Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF South Africa and Jamala Safari, poet and author of “The long great agony and pure laughter of the god”, spoke passionately about the topic.

Responding to a question on the complexity of the recruitment of child soldiers, Ms. Benvenuti replied, “Ending the use of child soldiers can be extremely challenging, particularly when children are enlisted for combat by armed, non-governmental groups. Modern conflicts are characterized by governmental breakdown, making it difficult to identify and influence those recruiting and using children as soldiers.”

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of children are unlawfully recruited to participate in armed conflicts as soldiers, messengers, spies, porters, cooks or to provide sexual services.  Many are pressed into combat where they may be forced to the front lines or sent into minefields ahead of older troops.  Some children are also used as suicide bombers.  This is taking place every day, in many countries around the world, violating children’s rights, destroying their childhood and compromising their future.

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