THE HAGUE: Children don’t start wars, and yet millions around the world are caught up in conflicts — conscripted into militias, felled by deadly bombing raids, robbed of their homes and families.
Now the International Criminal Court has pledged to place a special focus on prosecuting crimes against children, unveiling a new policy on Wednesday.
The aim is “to more robustly address the scourge of crimes against children,” said ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Her office also wants to “put the spotlight firmly on the 230 million children around the world today who suffer or are subjected to the crimes of war and conflict”.
“It is unforgivable that children are assaulted, violated and murdered and yet our conscience is not revolted,” Bensouda said.
At a gala event in The Hague to unveil the policy, Bensouda recalled the first case prosecuted by the tribunal after it opened in 2002 in The Hague.
Former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was found guilty of press-ganging child soldiers — all under the age of 15 — into his militia. He was jailed for 14 years.
The policy has taken two years to draw up and involved consulting many child victims of war and conflict from around the world.
“Children are rarely given visibility or voice in matters that affect their wellbeing,” said Romeo Dallaire, founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative, welcoming the initiative.
Special attention will now be paid to how children are questioned in the courtroom to “prevent harassment or intimidation”.
Prosecutors will “adopt a child-sensitive approach in all aspects of its work involving children” and court workers will be trained in how to handle child witnesses.
The former Dutch ombudsman for children, Marc Dullaert, revealed that “every five minutes, a child is killed by violence”.
“Children are among the principal victims of war. We are failing to take care of them,” Dullaert told the special event held on the sidelines of the annual assembly of ICC member nations.
He also urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the tribunal “without further delays”.
“Immediate prosecution of war crimes against children in Syria is necessary. Children’s lives and futures are at stake,” he warned.