The charity World Vision has urged the UK government to make protection for the world's 250,000 child soldiers a priority.
Yesterday marked Red Hand Day, also known as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. According to UN reports, 59 armed groups and armies from at least 14 countries recruit, kill, injure, rape or abduct children, with an estimated 250,000 children currently active in global conflicts.
Positively, the UK Mission to the UN in New York projected that over 115,000 children have been freed from armed groups since 2000.
Erica Hall, Senior Policy Adviser at World Vision UK, praised the UK government's recognition of the problem, but said that more needed to be done.
'Now we want to hear how they will support these efforts – with their political weight, funding and military expertise,' she said.
'To demonstrate its commitment we expect the UK Government delegation in Paris later this month to be led by Boris Johnson. We hope for a public announcement outlining the concrete plans they will make to support vulnerable children affected by war, with a focus on preventing the recruitment of child soldiers.
'Without political will and coordination across Whitehall and the various corridors of power across the world, thousands of child soldiers, some as young as seven, will continue to be abused, tortured, raped and die in armed conflicts around the world.'
Star of HBO's Game of Thrones Jerome Flynn recently went to visit World Vision's work in combating child exploitation in Myanmar.
Flynn said: 'This week I've been in Myanmar (with World Vision UK) meeting former child soldiers; boys who have been exploited and forced to kill. But these are just a few of the thousands of children around the world who are pressed into serving in armed groups. It is a heart-breaking tragedy of our times.'
World Vision shared the story of Malaika (name changed), a former child soldier in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Malaika lost her mother while she was young, and at age 7 was kidnapped by Mai-Mai rebels. She was 'married' to a rebel who violated and abused her, making her his slave. Other young men would abuse her too.
'At that time I did not know at all what sex was. I was only a child,' Malaika said. 'It hurts so much and was so humiliating. I tried not to feel anything in order to survive.'
Francis was one of tens of thousands of children in the DRC to be targeted as a child soldier. He was recruited at age 13, and by the time he was 14 he had killed four children and one adult. He was able to escape a few months later.
World Vision supports the protection and rehabilitation of child soldiers and slaves like Francis and Malaika in the DRC, the Central African Republic and Myanmar.