By Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press – Tue, 15 Feb, 2011 7:46 PM EST
A U.N. task force has documented “grave violations” against children in the poverty-stricken central African nation of Chad including recruitment of child soldiers, deaths and injuries, and sexual violence against girls, according to a report circulated Tuesday.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report to the Security Council that the level and extent of attacks in Chad in 2010 were not as high as 2009 but were still “unacceptable.”
The report, covering the period from July 2008 to December 2010, said boys and girls as young as 12 years old are still being recruited by the Chadian National Army and armed groups and warned that rape and sexual violence continue to be “a widespread phenomenon.”
Eastern Chad has suffered a spillover from the Darfur conflict in part because many rebels come from tribes that overlap the Chad and Sudan border. Some Darfur rebels have had bases in Chad, and the Chadian groups have had bases in Sudan, but cross-border fighting has been limited for about a year because the two governments have improved relations.
Eastern Chad is home to more than 250,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled the conflict in Darfur as well as 187,000 Chadians displaced by fighting locally and in Darfur.
The U.N. report comes on the heels of an Amnesty International report last week which said Chad’s armed forces and Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups are recruiting children from the camps in eastern Chad.
Amnesty International said recruiters use family members or appeal to the children’s ethnic loyalties to get them to join — and once in their ranks, child soldiers are sometimes used to lure new recruits with money, clothes and cigarettes.
The U.N. report said a task force in Chad verified the recruitment and use of children in eastern Chad, mostly boys aged 14 to 17 but also some as young as 12 years old as well as some girls recruited by armed groups.
While the government of Chad said in July 2009 that it was not recruiting children, the task force said it documented some cases of active recruitment — including children who were Sudanese refugees — and also observed children in the army. It said Sudanese refugee children were also recruited by armed groups including the Justice and Equality Movement.
The report documents cases of children associated with rebel groups who were captured and sometimes returned to their families and sometimes handed over to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, for psychological care and reintegration into society.
It said “a massive process of voluntary defections from Chadian armed opposition groups began” in June 2009 and about 5,000 defectors had joined government forces. “Among those who disarmed a total of 155 children were identified” and handed over by Chad’s social affairs ministry to UNICEF, it said.
According to the report, women and girls face sexual violence by unknown individuals, armed groups, the national army and fellow refugees or internally displaced Chadians in camps.
Of the 563 cases of sexual and gender-based violence among refugee women and girls in the early months of 2010, it said, “nearly 30 per cent of victims were children, including children as young as three years old.” It said the majority of cases were domestic violence but also included early and forced marriages, rapes and attempted rapes including by members of the armed forces.
As for deaths and injuries, the report cited three allegations of child recruits being killed in combat in 2009 and said it confirmed the death of a youngster recruited by JEM.
The task force said no such allegations were received in 2010 but it said land mines and other explosive remnants of the conflict continue to take a toll on children, with 15 boys killed and 24 boys and two girls injured in 2009, and two boys killed and 12 injured between January and August 2010.
The secretary-general commended the Chadian government’s efforts to address child recruitment in the armed forces but called for d clear orders to the military chain of command to end the practice.
Ban also warned that the departure of the 3,300-strong U.N. peacekeeping force operating in Chad and the Central African Republic at the end of December “will likely have a negative impact on the security situation, potentially increasing the threat of violations against children.”