1 February 2007The United Nations envoy on children and armed conflict and the deputy head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have urged all parties in Sudan to commit to ending child recruitment and to immediately release any children associated with their forces. The United Nations envoy on children and armed conflict and the deputy head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have urged all parties in Sudan to commit to ending child recruitment and to immediately release any children associated with their forces.Wrapping up a week-long visit to Sudan, including to strife-torn Darfur, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah called for increased resources to help former child combatants reintegrate into their communities.“Children should be seen as a bridge-head in the dialogue for peace,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said. “Protecting them is crucial to building a durable peace in this country.”Ms. Salah reiterated UNICEF’s commitment to supporting national authorities in protecting all children, noting that they “dream of being free from a culture of war and fear, and we are ready to walk hand in hand with the people of Sudan to achieve this goal.”The Special Rapporteur and Ms. Salah also welcomed a series of commitments by the Government and armed groups to reinforce child protection.The Government of National Unity has pledged to adopt and implement national legislation to criminalize recruitment of child soldiers and also to set up a joint task force with the UN on sexual violence and abuse against children.The Government of Southern Sudan will undertake an audit of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and allied forces, in collaboration with the UN, to identify and release any associated children. It will also increase spending on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of children.Rebel groups and non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), struck in May last year, have promised to cooperate with the UN on action plans to identify and release children associated with their forces and to set up a monitoring and verification system.Ms. Coomaraswamy and Ms. Salah also urged national authorities to accelerate the adoption of critical child protection legislation such as the Child Rights Bill and the Armed Forces Act, and to undertake rigorous investigation and prosecution for crimes against children, especially rape and other grave sexual violence against girls.Recent allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation of children by UN peacekeepers were also addressed during the visit, with the delegation reiterating that such abuses are unacceptable and calling for the Secretary-General’s “zero tolerance” policy to be vigorously enforced.