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U.N. outlines 55 measures to protect war children

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations outlined recommendations Friday to better protect children caught in war, saying they have increasingly become the "innocent victims of the persistent gap between law and practice."

The 55 proposals cover a range of issues confronting children in war zones, including their recruitment into armies, their risk of harm from land mines and their vulnerability to sanctions applied in times of conflict.

The United Nations estimates that some 300,000 children have been recruited, mostly by rebel groups, to fight wars from Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka. UNICEF data indicates that between 1986 and 1996, wars killed 2 million children, injured 6 million and left 1 million orphaned.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report to the Security Council that a key starting point to reduce those numbers would be if all governments ratified the core treaties and protocols on protecting children and for rebel groups to also respect their standards.

He asked countries that support rebel factions — with military, political financial or other aid — to condition their assistance on compliance with those norms. And he suggested that corporations be asked to develop voluntary codes of conduct concerning trade with countries or other partners responsible for gross violations of children's rights.

He stressed that people who commit genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity on children should not be offered amnesty as part of peace negotiations.

His core recommendations are expected to be negotiated by the Security Council and then translated into a resolution.

In the report, Annan also urged the council to take into consideration the "unintended consequences" of sanctions on children when it debates whether to place embargoes on countries. He suggested the council deploy assessment missions to targeted countries to determine how embargoes might affect the civilian population.

"The potential long-term benefits of sanctions should be weighed against the immediate and long-term costs to children," Annan said, citing the collapse of education and health infrastructures and increase in infant mortality rates associated with some sanctions regimes.

"The suffering of Iraqi children, as reported by UNICEF, and of children in the Balkans are troubling cases in point," Annan wrote.

The report also addressed ways the Security Council could help children recover from wars. Annan urged that their needs be taken into account when designing peace agreements, ensuring that child combatants are reintegrated back into civilian life.

Girls should be given particular attention to ensure that they receive equal access to education and job training, Annan wrote.

He said children are disproportionately at risk from being maimed or killed by land mines and urged more money for mine clearance and education programs.