Friday, November 23, 2007

Ex-Child Soldier Named UNICEF Advocate

image UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Former child soldier and best-selling author Ishmael Beah has taken on a new role — showing children caught in conflict that there can be a better life after war and urging government leaders to help fund their return to society.

Beah, a 27-year-old survivor of Sierra Leone's civil war, was appointed UNICEF's first Advocate for Children Affected by War on Wednesday, saying he wants to show that his story of redemption need not be unique.

"For many observers, a child who has known nothing but war, a child for whom the Kalashnikov is the only way to make a living and for whom the bush is the most welcoming community, is a child lost forever for peace and development. I contest this view," Beah said. "For the sake of these children it is essential to prove that another life is possible."

Beah said he wants to generate the "political will" necessary to persuade world leaders not only to fund rehabilitation programs for children caught in conflict but to adopt laws that bar the recruitment of child soldiers and to ensure that those who make youngsters fight are held accountable.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said Beah's book, "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," and his many public appearances, already have drawn public attention to the problem.

"He has helped to raise awareness like almost no one has been able to do — and so it is only appropriate that UNICEF should give him this more formal role to continue to speak strongly about the issue of child soldiers," she said.

Wednesday marked the 18th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty created to help prevent the kind of suffering that Beah endured.

"I think the issue of child soldiers has been largely an untold story — what it does to children, what happens to children," she said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council on Wednesday that despite the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the plight of children in armed conflict remains "particularly disturbing."

"Every year, thousands of children are killed and wounded as a direct result of fighting," he said. "And the number of child soldiers around the world is estimated at 250,000."

Beah's book traces his life from when Sierra Leone's war first touched him at age 12 through his struggle to regain his humanity after years of killing.

"For me, having survived this war was an extraordinary luck, and so also having an education, and I want to use that as a way to put a human face on this," he said.

"I hope to go to countries, speaking not only to the leaders but to the young people that are there — those that are going through the rehabilitation process — to know that there's a life beyond that, because I've once been there myself."

The Associated Press: Ex-Child Soldier Named UNICEF Advocate