Youth participation, idea exchange highlights of war-child conference

Mennonite Central Committee
Sunday, 23 September 2001

WINNIPEG, Man. -- The voices of millions of children affected by war are rarely heard. But the recent International Conference on War-Affected Children sought to hear directly from those most affected and find ways to improve their lives.

"I thought there was some really good discussion, especially in small groups. There was some good energy given to the conference," said Terry Sawatzky, co-director of Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC) Africa department. He participated in the conference, held September 10-17 in Winnipeg.

In the past decade alone, wars have killed more than two million children and left another five million children physically disabled. Approximately 300,000 child soldiers participate in conflicts around the world, according to numbers given at the conference.

Graça Machel, former first lady of Mozambique, and the United Nation's appointed expert on war-affected children, acted as honorary chair of the event, which was the first conference of its kind.

It brought together youth delegates, so-called "experts" and government ministers--many of whom were from war-affected countries. Foreign ministers adopted a 14-point agenda for war- affected children which included the release of child soldiers, stopping the flow of arms and increased accountability.

While Sawatzky said he's hopeful the group moved closer to the critical mass needed to protect children in war zones, he's less sure that real political changes--such as the wholesale release of children abducted and forced to become soldiers--will result. "I wouldn't hold my breath on that," he said.

MCC doesn't have a program area directly dealing with war-affected children, but numerous MCC volunteers have served in conflict zones around the world. As well, projects, such as distribution of school kits and relief food, education scholarships and summer camps, help children in war-affected countries.

For more information, or to contact Mennonite Central Committee, see their website at: www.mcc.org

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