Is the world ready to deal with a generation of ISIS child soldiers?

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By: Nick Logan

If there’s a war crime to be committed, it appears ISIS is more than willing to carry it out. And, that includes indoctrinating young children and making them witnesses and accomplices to some of the militant group’s most gruesome acts.

The United Nations and human rights groups have been warning for months ISIS is using child soldiers in its battle to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. But, the number of young recruits — lured or taken from already vulnerable situations, manipulated and forced into conflict — could be an even greater cause for international concern in years to come.

“They’ve deliberately been talking about a generational war and preparing the next generation,” Dr. Shelly Whitman, the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative based at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, told Global News.

“I haven’t seen that come out so strongly in any other previous use of children as I’ve seen in this instance.”

She said sources she’s spoken with suggest the number of child soldiers in ISIS-controlled areas could be in the “couple hundreds of thousands.”

To clarify, that doesn’t mean a fleet of hundreds of thousands of children on the front lines in the Islamic State — how ISIS refers to itself and its self-proclaimed caliphate — rather all of the children being used to further the militant groups advances.

“With the children, they could be undertaking multiple roles,” she said.

According to various reports, including from the United Nations, children have been forced to do everything from carting weaponry to acting as human shields, and in some cases carrying out suicide bombings.

There are accounts of children being made to witness beheadings as a part of their training to become jihadis.

Some children are said to be used as human blood banks — a source for transfusions to treat wounded adult fighters.

“They might not be accounted by others, who look at them as official fighters, but according to the definition of child soldiers, that makes them a child soldier,” Whitman explained.

The situation in ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria is far too dangerous for many international aid agencies and non-government organizations to get access to children and intervene in recruitment.

Preventing children from being recruited or forcibly indoctrinated is one thing, but having a plan to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society is crucial, say experts.

“When the war stops, it doesn’t go straight from war to jolly old peace. It’s an incredibly fragile situation,” said James Topham, director of communications for War Child.

In a situation like this, the “sheer number” of children affected and the lack of any support or infrastructure can leave child soldiers, especially those who have been exposed to such horrific violence, with little chance of going back to the lives they once had.

“Sometimes the best option is to go back into an armed group,” Topham said.

“It is possible to work with young people [who] have been through this kind of indoctrination and it is possible to be able to see change. But, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Whitman said. “[But] if you wait to deal with these problems… you’re always going to be dealing with the long-term, cyclical impacts.”

The international community needs to come up with a plan to address this situation, Whitman warned.

Whitman briefed officials at NATO last month on the use children in warfare.

“They admit they’re not well prepared or trained [to deal with] it,” she said.

“I’m very worried that the level of effort we’ve put into addressing this is not one where we’ve put children at the top of the agenda.”

Global News reached out to NATO’s press office for comment, but a spokesperson said a response would not be possible in time for publication.


Keeping the Peace

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By: Lynn Curwin

Atlantic Women in Law Enforcement conference held in Truro

TRURO – Women in law enforcement face different challenges than men and bring to the job different strengths. These factors play a large role during the Atlantic Women in Law Enforcement Conference.

Held over four days at the Holiday Inn, the theme of the conference was “Staying Strong and Carrying On.”

“The committee chose the theme last year,” said Sgt. Carolyn Nichols, AWLE president and member of the Halifax Regional Police. “Catherine Campbell was on the committee and with what happened to her the theme took on a whole new meaning to all of us. We had worked quite closely with her so the theme became even more relevant.”

Campbell, a Truro police officer, was murdered in September while off duty. A Halifax man has been charged with second-degree murder and faces another charge of indecently interfering with a dead body.

Topics discussed at the conference included social media, forensic psychology, criminal investigations and intelligence gathering and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The keynote speaker was Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire.

“He is a very captivating speaker, very personable and honest,” said Nichols. “I think everyone hung on every word. He talked about his child soldier initiative and about PTSD. He stressed the importance of asking for help when you need it.”

After retiring Dallaire founded The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative in an effort to help end the recruitment and use of child soldiers globally. He also helped reform assistance for Canadian Forces’ veterans affected by PTSD, from which he suffered.

About 95 women from various law enforcement agencies across Atlantic Canada gathered for the conference. The event began with only police but grew to include other agencies.

“The greatest thing about coming to this is the feeling of connection with other women in law enforcement,” said Nichols. “We talk about the issues and there’s networking. It provides a forum for woman to come together and talk about making changes in the work place.”

Nichols’ aunt is a retired police officer who expressed the importance of women supporting women. Nichols became a police officer in 1999 and attended her first conference in 2000.

AWLE became an affiliate of the International Association of Women Police in 2003 and last year two Nova Scotia officers won international awards. Cpl. Charla Keddy, RCMP H Division, won officer of the year and Sgt Nancy Rudback, Halifax Regional Police, was presented with the mentoring award.

The 23rd annual AWLE conference was co-hosted by the Truro Police Service, Colchester County District RCMP, Nova Institution for Women and Correctional Service of Canada.

Coming face-to-face with a child soldier

Boko Haram’s ranks are estimated to be 40 percent children. Let’s face those facts now, to better prepare soldiers that might meet them in the field.

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By: Dr. Shelly Whitman and LGen Roméo Dallaire

In April, 2014, deep in northern Nigeria, an estimated 276 girls disappeared from their school at the hands of the now-infamous group Boko Haram. Local activists quickly took to Twitter, asking for global support to #bringbackourgirls. In the weeks and months following the kidnapping, the international community was gripped by what was to come of these girls. A year and a half later, most the girls are still missing and over 800,000 children have been displaced by the continued violence and fighting surrounding Boko Haram.

Regrettably, the kidnapping of the Chibok girls was not the first time that Boko Haram targeted children for the ranks of its armed group, nor will it be its last. Recognizing the perceived strategic and tactical advantages of using children, they continue to swell their ranks. At the close of 2014, children reportedly made up over 40 percent of Boko Haram’s fighting force.

The spectre of sexual violence and servitude, which the Chibok girls faced, is only one of the many roles that children made to fight for Boko Haram face. Some work as cooks, porters and look-outs. While other children, some as young as seven, will be made to commit suicide bombings, be used as human shields or operate as frontline combatants.

It is critical to understand that child soldiering is a specific operational tactic that groups such as Boko Haram use to achieve their goals and remain successful on the battlefield. Children are used because of their youth, rather than in spite of it.

A nuanced understanding of this use of children as weapons of war is crucial. Recognizing the complexities of child soldiering as a tactic demands that we include and value the security sector perspective and role. Our largely humanitarian response to instances of child soldiery has failed to acknowledge or address this specific security dimension of the issue.

The abuse of youth as instruments of war is a reality that can’t be resolved on the day you face them in the field. Yet we continue to expect those who face them on mission to come up with ad hoc solutions often based on inadequate knowledge of the issue.

In March of 2014, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2143, which expresses the critical importance of “providing military, police and civilian peacekeepers with adequate pre-deployment and in-mission training on mission-specific child protection issues.” This resolution was further reinforced just one month later, as Nigeria led the United Nations Security Council to pass Resolution 2151. Res. 2151 encourages countries to include child protection in military trainings and standard operating procedures as part of a broader Security Sector Approach.

When the security sector is better equipped to be a part of the solution, child soldiering will prove less advantageous. Armed groups will be less motivated to commit to using them within their ranks. A security sector response is an essential piece of the global strategy to make child soldiering unthinkable.

Just as a purely humanitarian response is not enough to stop Boko Haram, it is impossible for one nation alone to break this cycle of violence. As we operationalise these trainings, combinations of nations and organizations must work together to prepare the security sector to deal with child soldiers. Cooperative efforts such as these represent a chance to raise the protection of children within the overall peace and security agenda and to recognize child soldiering as a unique security concern that demands unique responses.

To prevent Boko Haram from continuing their abuses against children, we need an international, multi-faceted approach. The use of children as soldiers is a global phenomenon that is impacting every continent and every conflict that currently exists.  If we do not find proactive methods to prevent the use of children as soldiers then we will continue to miss critical opportunities to stem the tide of instability which is engulfing our world.

Moral imperative: Romeo Dallaire addresses sold-out Annapolis Valley crowd

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By: Wendy Elliot

GREENWICH –  Romeo Dallaire wants us to consider the meaning of humanity.

Citing an example from his time in Rwanda as Head of United Nations troops in during the 1994 genocide, the former senator shared his belief humans from all continents are equal when speaking Oct. 21 at Horton High School.

Dallaire described stopping a convoy to pick up a little boy, about seven years old, standing not far from a pile of massacred bodies. His stomach was bloated, he was dressed in tatters and filthy dirty, but,  looking into the boys’ eyes, Dallaire found they were identical to the eyes of his own seven-year-old son back home.

In Greenwich, he began his speech to more than 500 people by talking about rape. Dallaire said not every child soldier carries a gun.

“It’s from porters to carrying ammunition, to carrying water to ultimately being sex slaves and bush wives,” he said.

Dallaire’s consuming passion these days is fighting the use of children as weapons of war.

These are not the patriotic 16-year-olds who lied about their age to join the army in World War II, he pointed out. These are children, often in refugee camps without schooling, who find themselves recruited by adults into cheap, plentiful soldiers.

Why do we respond to amber alerts for missing children when the world is full of amber alert? he asked.

Warfare today, he said, cannot be sustained if a conflict employs only adult soldiers. Some 50 groups in seven countries are employing child soldiers,” Dallaire said.

“We are stumbling into a new era,” he said. The Geneva Convention world of the Cold War has turned into an era of internal wars and terrorist actions perpetrated by individuals who have no humanitarian considerations, he said.

Is it any wonder, he said, that post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is on the rise among military personnel who have endured such conditions ?

Dallaire saw this for himself in Rwanda, where Hutu plans to eradicate the Tutsis were drawn up by soldiers but executed by youth. They killed more than 800,000 in the 100 days of the genocide, he said.

Another powerful story Dallaire recalled, concerned a Canadian unit in Rwanda of men no more than 18 to 20 years of age. They came upon a pile of the bodies of women and girls who had been raped, mutilated and massacred. The soldiers realized that a few remained alive.

They probably would have died anyway, Dallaire said, and  – with a 30 per cent risk of contracting the HIV virus –  even attempting to ease their pain was dangerous. Nevertheless, while their leaders debated, the soldiers instinctively reached out to offer what comfort they could to the dying women.

Taking action

Prevention seems the wisest course to solve the problem of child soldiers, Dallarie said.

Supporting education is imperative, Dallaire added, and all actions must be undertaken with an attitude of respect.

“When I look at the younger generation in across our country, I see they’re already global. They have already mastered that technology,” he said.

Go start a non-governmental organization, Dallaire told his youthful audience, then describing a visit he had from three members of Clowns Without Borders, an NGO that works in refugee camps to teach children to laugh and have hope.

Dallaire put PTSD on the map. During the genocide, he refused to flee, placing the lives of 32,000 people foremost. He acknowledged his many years of psychiatric treatment, attempted suicide and said what nurtures him is reaching out to a “generation without borders, the under 25-year-olds who are engaged in in the world.

“I want to nurture the belief in human rights. We’re all equal.”

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative, which will receive the proceeds from Dallaire’s talk, works with Dalhousie University to battle the abuse of human beings.

Why Beasts of No Nation fails to tell the whole story about child soldiers

Film critics are enthralled by Idris Elba’s new film, Beasts of No Nation, which gives a vivid account of the life of child soldiers. But those who work in the field are not so thrilled

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By: Harriet Alexander

It wasn’t the 14-year-old’s capacity to kill which most depressed the Lieutenant-General. Not was it the harrowing scenes of senseless violence, with children used by warlords as weapons of war, killing their kin to order.

What most saddened him was that he had seen it all before.

“It was the classic scenario of a failing nation – an imploding state,” he said, talking about the Idris Elba-led film Beasts of No Nation, which is released on Friday. “But it just felt a bit simplistic.”

And Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire knows more than most about child soldiers. And real life collapsing states.

The Canadian senator, now 69, was commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1994 – and his inability to secure UN intervention to stop the genocide which killed 800,000 people has haunted him ever since. He was medically discharged from the army with PTSD and in 2007 he launched The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, with a mission to stop the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide.

And so, last month, the retired soldier was invited to attend a Toronto Film Festival screening of the film, which tells a story so close to his heart.

“It’s the classic Blood Diamond story of disaster in Africa,” he said, having seen the film. “But it doesn’t give an analysis of the situation. There was a lot missing.”

It is however, he willingly admits, a gripping tale.

Directed by Cary Fukunaga, whose previous work includes Jane Eyre, season one of True Detective, and intense Central American migrant drama Sin Nombre, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of Agu, the 14-year-old boy whose life is turned upside down when he loses his family in tribal violence, and is recruited to become a child soldier.

It is based on the 2005 book of the same name by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, and set in a nameless West African country.

“What drew me to it was the perspective; seeing it from a child’s point of view,” said Mandela star Elba, a Londoner whose mother Eve was born in Ghana. “The whole concept of child soldiers – people know about it, but not in detail.”

The film was shot on location in the jungles of Ghana during monsoon season, where Elba had to call in all the favours he had to find props and loan vehicles. Resources were scarce, floodwaters wreaked havoc with the sets, cars were ambushed and extras imprisoned. The director caught malaria and Elba fell off a cliff, only surviving by clinging onto a tree overhanging the waterfall.

The film is made by Netflix, which will for the first time show the movie in cinemas and offer it online. It is being seen as a watershed moment for the film industry, which could transform our attitudes towards cinemas and home viewing.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Elba, speaking at the film festival. “I’m so proud of what it’s done, and how it’s been received.”

He produced the film and dominates the screen as Commandant – the warlord who controls the boys. It is a role which is already generating Oscar buzz, and garnering rave reviews.

Even more talk has been of Abraham Attah, a first-time actor who was chosen to play the lead role at an open audition, and stars as Agu.

The critics have been falling over themselves to praise the vivid, intense and atmospheric drama.

Lt Gen Dallaire is somewhat more reserved, however.

“I’m not against the film,” he said. “Cinema is an extraordinary tool. But it really didn’t tell the whole story.”

So what is the whole story?

The charity War Child estimates that there are around 250,000 child soldiers worldwide – a child being under 18.

The assumption remains that it is an African problem, but Lt Gen Dallaire is at pains to point out that India, Colombia, Thailand and Burma are just some of the countries known to have problems with rebel groups using children.

Ben Affleck, Abraham Atta, Cary Fukunaga, John Legend and Ted Sarandos at the ‘Beasts of No Nation’ film premiere in Los Angeles  Photo: Rex

“We were working in Sierra Leone, alongside some British soldiers,” he said. “And when they heard us deliver our training to the Sierra Leonean army on how to handle a situation involving child soldiers, one turned to me and said: ‘Where the hell were you when we were facing this in Afghanistan?’”

Military man that he is, Lt Gen Dallaire approaches the issue on several fronts: training troops in how to deal with children on the battlefield, carrying out research into the scale of the problem, and working to raise awareness of the fact that having children among your ranks is not an asset.

“You have to explain how to handle it,” he said, with classic military mentality. “If you attack them, you are committing a crime against a child. And if you turn and flee, you are not achieving your mission.”

This year he and his team have been working extensively in Uganda, training 20 generals and other senior military commanders in how to cope with child soldiers. They then returned, so that those they had trained could pass on the training to 100 more. Later this year they will travel to Ethiopia to rewrite the constitution of the African Union, as they did with Nato, to include measures for dealing with child combatants.

And he has recently returned from Jordan, where, he said, the refugee camps can become ripe recruiting grounds for Islamists to pluck child soldiers.

“I think there is a dearth of information in particular about Islamist extremists and the use of child soldiers,” he said. “People are edgy about bringing it to the floor. They worry about going into something so complex.”

But groups such as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram were making extensive use of child soldiers, he said. And it is not something that Western forces can shrug off, saying it is something they will never come into contact with.

Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation”   Photo: Netflix via AP

South Sudan – to where Britain is poised to send 300 peacekeepers – is one of the countries in which he works.

“I think the film could certainly have done more to show how most peacekeepers are really not trained,” he said. “That’s at the heart of our work.

“I think the film could have done more to show the indoctrination of the children, and the psychological battles. It needs to be more nuanced than just African kids with AK47s.”

Helen Morton, director of advocacy for War Child, agreed.

“Forty per cent of child soldiers are girls, and few films ever portray that,” she said. “Girls are combatants – and in growing numbers. They are forced to do things that are beyond even a child’s imagination, and often recruited as sex slaves.”

Just a few weeks ago, 163 child soldiers were released in the Central African Republic, she said, and War Child is working to reintegrate them, and a further 3,000, back into their communities.

The UN is making real progress on the issue, she said, but more must be done.

“If the film shines a light on the issue then it’s certainly useful. But it’s important that audiences realise it’s not fiction – it’s fact. And as horrifying as some of the scenes are, they are more muted than the reality facing 250,000 child soldiers on a daily basis.”

Has any film ever got it right?

He paused. “American Sniper was getting there,” said Lt Gen Dallaire. “It did deal with the dilemmas of children becoming Islamist extremists. But there was no mention of how the kids were indoctrinated and nurtured over years.

“There’s a good film called Hyena Road, set in Afghanistan, which does well. And documentaries are getting there. People tend to forget that it is through the recruitment of child soldiers that conflict itself is sustained.

“But look – it is crucial to talk about genocide prevention, and mass atrocities. So regardless of my concerns, I do think people should go and see it.”

Islamic State moulds children into new generation of militants

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By: Jessica Stern

France’s first air strike targeting Islamic State (IS) in Syria is reported to have killed 12 children recruited by the jihadist group.

Their deaths have highlighted how the young populations of Syria and Iraq are being moulded into a new generation of militants, writes Jessica Stern.

IS recruits children to use them as human shields, fighters, suicide bombers, snipers, and blood donors.

In July 2015, IS released a video of what is believed to be the group’s first recorded beheading by a child soldier. Children have also reportedly been instructed by IS militants to shoot captives.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in July 2015 that IS had used as many as 19 children as suicide bombers. The report announced that at least 52 children under the age of 16 had died fighting for IS so far in 2015.

Residents of Raqqa told Syria Deeply that children were taught in ISIS training camps how to behead another human being, and were given blonde dolls on which to practise.

One child told Human Rights Watch: “When [IS] came to my town… I liked what they are wearing, they were like one herd. They had a lot of weapons. So I spoke to them, and decided to go to their training camp in Kafr Hamra in Aleppo.”

He attended the camp when he was 16 years old, but the leader told him he preferred younger trainees.

Systematic indoctrination

IS is what sociologist Erving Goffman referred to as a “total institution”, which he defined as one that “has more or less monopoly control of its members’ everyday life”.

Like other total institutions, IS aims to create a new form of man.

Young children are easier to mould into the IS vision of this new man.

This is a hallmark of a total institution – seen when Pol Pot experimented with creating a utopia in Kampuchea (the name used for Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge controlled it) in the 1970s, using methods not that different from those employed by IS.

The idea was to create an entirely new society, uncontaminated by the values the Khmer Rouge aimed to stamp out.

Children were seen as the least corrupted by bourgeois values and would be educated “according to the precepts of the revolution”, which did not include traditional subjects.

As was the case for the Khmer Rouge, the children of IS are both victims and perpetrators of terror.

As psychiatrist Otto Kernberg explains: “Individuals born into a totalitarian system and educated by it from early childhood have very little choice to escape from total identification with that system… Totalitarian educational systems permit a systematic indoctrination of children and youth into the dominant ideology”, especially when they are young.

Financial incentives

According to the research of Mia Bloom and John Horgan of Georgia State University, IS follows a trend of training ever-younger operatives.

By doing so they hope to ensure a new generation of fighters.

Leadership decapitation is significantly less likely to be effective against organisations that prepare children to step into their fathers’ shoes.

Some of the children come with their families from abroad, to grow up in what their parents see as a pure Islamic state.

They learn to say that they are citizens of this Islamic state rather than from their country of origin.

But financial desperation is also a factor.

IS heavily taxes populations under its control in Iraq and Syria while raising the prices of essential goods

The economic situation is further exacerbated by US-led coalition air strikes, which have disrupted the oil-based economy upon which many civilians’ livelihoods depend.

As a result, Iraqis and Syrians have found themselves bankrupt with no means to provide for themselves or their families.

This financial burden has pushed some parents, particularly in Syria, to send their children to fight for IS in order to make a living wage to support the family.

In Raqqa, IS pays parents and bribes children to attend its training camps.

In June, the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict reported that in some cases, child soldiers have been paid salaries of up to $400 (£260) per month.

Children in refugee camps are especially vulnerable to recruitment.

Romeo Dallaire, the founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative, explains the allure of IS for refugees: “Trying to talk to young people who have absolutely no hope, no school, just aimlessly waiting in very difficult living conditions… when people get through to them and say, ‘You might as well cross the border and come and fight.’ Even 13-year-olds are attracted by that.”

IS militants have recruited young opposition fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) by promising them amnesty in exchange for their service in IS ranks.

After leaving the FSA, the children are sent to IS indoctrination schools and brainwashed before being sent into battle.

‘Abuse on industrial scale’

But the recruits are not always volunteers.

Children of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly the Kurds and Yazidis, have been kidnapped and forced to join IS.

According to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in one case, more than 600 Kurdish students were kidnapped on their way home from taking exams in Aleppo.

Their captors gave the boys an Islamic “education”, encouraging them to join the jihad, showing them videos of beheadings and suicide attacks.

A February 2015 report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded that IS had used “mentally challenged” children as suicide bombers.

IS has brutalised children who do not co-operate as soldiers.

In August 2015 militants reportedly chopped off the right hand and left foot of a 14-year-old Syrian boy who refused to fight.

Lt-Gen H R McMaster is director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), US Army Training and Doctrine Command. His job is to assess threats of the future for the U.S. Army.

He describes IS as “engaging in child abuse on an industrial scale”.

“They brutalise and systematically dehumanise the young populations. This is going to be a multigenerational problem.”

Jessica Stern is a Lecturer on Terrorism at Harvard University, an Advanced Academic Candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Psychoanalysis and serves on the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. She is a co-author of: ISIS: The State of Terror.