Rebels sign child protection deal
Geneva – Sudanese rebel group JEM signed a landmark deal with the UN on Wednesday, pledging to protect children caught up in the Darfur conflict, according to a copy of the accord released by mediators.
The Justice and Equality Movement's humanitarian affairs co-ordinator Suleiman Jamous and UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Sudan Georg Charpentier had signed the agreement in Geneva, with Unicef's Sudan representative Nils Kastberg as a witness.
As part of the agreement brokered by the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the JEM committed to "release and handover to Unicef all boys and girls associated with the JEM if any and facilitate their re-integration."
It also agreed to release and handover children "not directly associated with JEM if any who might have been recruited or used by other parties to the conflict".
In addition, the rebel group committed to protect children from sexual violence.
Unimpeded and regular access
To verify that the JEM adheres to its commitment, officials from the UN children's agency and other monitoring officials have been granted "unimpeded and regular access to all relevant JEM places, persons and relevant documents" under the deal.
Ahead of the signing, mediator Dennis McNamara described the deal as a "very valuable precedent".
"Certainly (other groups) will be aware of it and they will presumably look at themselves and think whether they should not do something similar and we hope that is the case," the humanitarian adviser at the centre told AFP.
Among key issues surrounding children in Darfur is the use of child soldiers, with all parties of the conflict having been accused of recruiting minors for combat.
Unicef estimated in late-2008 that there were around 6 000 child soldiers in Darfur alone, with the youngest just 11 years of age, while most were aged between 15 and 17.
International and Sudanese law
Anyone under 18 is considered a child under international and Sudanese law. However, in many tribal cultures, they are viewed as adults after puberty.
McNamara noted that under the deal, if UN officials were to "find children in military areas, or in conflict areas, they will arrange for them to be removed."
Meanwhile, JEM spokesperson Ahmed Hussein told AFP that "there are no child soldiers in JEM" and that the agreement went beyond the issue of children in conflict to the welfare of children such as education.
"The signing of this agreement does not mean that JEM has recruited child soldiers. This is not true.
"We are taking this as an initiative of goodwill, we want to lead and set an example," said Hussein.