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250,000 child soldiers worldwide

GENEVA, Sep 15 – Around a quarter of a million children are fighting with armed groups across the world, the UN’s representative for children affected by conflict said Tuesday.

"We estimate that there are 250,000 child soldiers in the world today," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, United Nations special representative for children and armed conflict.

This figure is down from around 300,000 five years ago, she added, but stressed the numbers were estimates.

Coomaraswamy, who Tuesday presented her annual report to the 47 states of the UN Human Rights Council, highlighted it had been a "terrible year" for youngsters affected by war.

"Ferocious conflicts in Gaza, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan have led to high casualty rates and the displacement of a large number of people, especially children," she said.

The use of children as suicide bombers by extremist groups and the targeting of youngsters in counter-terrorism operations was also a cause for concern, the UN representative said.

"Many children are used as suicide bombers as well as fighters," Coomaraswamy said.

"We also have the situation where large numbers of children are arrested and detained in counter-terrorism activity.

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"This is of concern."

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