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An accord aimed at ending the use of child soldiers worldwide was reached Friday after six years of efforts and a compromise that allows governments to maintain voluntary recruitment of children 16 and older.

Officials and campaigners welcomed the agreement, which sets a combat limit of 18, as an important step toward easing the plight of the world's child soldiers. More than 300,000 youths below the age of 18 are involved in fighting, according to U.N. figures.

U.N. agencies and human rights campaigners wanted to raise the age limit on all military recruits to 18 from the 15 specified in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States was among countries opposing the higher limit. The United States allows voluntary enlistment at 17. Britain starts at 16.

The accord will be subject to approval from U.N. bodies and then be put up for signature by governments.

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