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10 years on: Marking the 10th anniversary Paris Principles and Commitments

By: Dustin Johnson

Header Photo: © UNICEF/UNI142246/Matas

Reliable data on child soldiers continues to be very difficult to obtain but tens of thousands have been recruited over the past few years: 17,000 in South Sudan, 10,000 in Central African Republic since 2013, 2,000 by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin region last year alone, and 1,500 in Yemen since the beginning of the conflict there.

This week is the 10th anniversary of the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces (Paris Commitments) and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups (Paris Principles). Coinciding with this important anniversary, UNICEF released its latest numbers on the use and recruitment of child soldiers.

The numbers of recruitment provide a sobering assessment of the scale of violence targeted at children in modern wars. But progress has been made over the last decade of international action.

Over the past ten years, at least 65,000 children have been demobilized from armed forces and groups and returned to civilian life. In the words of Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, “Ten years ago the world made a commitment to the children of war and matched it with action – action that has helped give 65,000 children a new chance for a better life”.

All children should be spared the physical and mental trauma, destruction of family and social ties, and interruption of education and normal development that child soldiery brings. In order to preserve progress and increase momentum towards the complete elimination of the use of child soldiers, it is imperative that the international community devotes increased resources and attention to the prevention of recruitment. For example, demobilized former child soldiers can be vulnerable to re-recruitment, as their prior training and experience fighting can make them attractive targets for armed groups.

“Ten years ago the world made a commitment to the children of war and matched it with action – action that has helped give 65,000 children a new chance for a better life”. Anthony Lake, Executive Director, UNICEF

To prevent the re-recruitment of demobilized child soldiers, a range of steps are needed. These include providing sufficient support to demobilization programs to ensure the rehabilitation and reintegration of children into their communities, provision of education and work opportunities to provide viable alternatives to joining an armed group, and training security sector personnel—military, police, peacekeepers—to provide appropriate, rights-based protection and security to children, their communities, and demobilization centres.

At the Dallaire Initiative, we bridge the gap between humanitarian responses and the roles of the security sector personnel. For example, our training programs for security sector personnel provide both the tools and knowledge for military, police, and peacekeepers, to recognize those vulnerable to recruitment and where along with the necessary responses to protect. These interventions by security personnel complement the efforts of other organizations such as the UN,  humanitarian and development NGOs whose programs provide other important interventions in affected countries. Though such a holistic and preventative approach that addresses all facets of the recruitment of child soldiers, we can work towards the complete elimination of this abuse of children.

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Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Children during Armed Conflict: Training in Nairobi, Kenya

By: Darin Reeves

After two weeks of in-class training and education at the Humanitarian and Peace Support School (HPSS) located in Embakasi, Kenya, including two days conducting live-action simulations of interactions with children and child soldiers, course participants from AMISOM and the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) concluded their program on Friday and are now prepared to assist with ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Somalia. This training, conducted by the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative in partnership the British Peace Support Team (East Africa) (BPST-EA) was immensely successful and is the first training of its kind to be delivered specifically for AMISOM and Somalia.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Kareem Adebayo as the representative of the AMISOM SRCC thanked the Dallaire Initiative and representatives of the UK, noting that both had come from so far away in order to assist the children of Somalia. He went on to describe that this course was very intensive and very practical and that this is exactly what he and the SRCC wanted. “This training is very important to ending the cycle of violence in Somalia, and protecting Somali children.”

Colonel Leakey, commanding officer of BPST-EA also expressed his appreciation, remarking on the partnership between AMISOM, BPST-EA and the Dallaire Initiative as an excellent example of a new atmosphere of cooperation. “By protecting Somali children, we will greatly help this vulnerable group – the sooner we break the cycle of violence plaguing Somalia, the sooner we can help return Somalia to peace.” In particular, he noted that a portion of the course training had been viewed personally by Her Excellency Ms. Sara Hradecky, the Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya, which was demonstrative of Canada’s commitment to the region and to the safety of children.

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2 November 2011. El Fasher: Sheij Aldine is a member of the  center of the Sudanese Association for Disabled People in El Fasher. He works at the workshop, making crutches, wheelchairs and special shoes for disabled persons. He is also disabled and he is given a motorbike by the organization to facilitate his mobility. 
The organization takes care of all disabled people in Darfur.
Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNAMID

Exploring the Intersection of Child Soldiering and Disability

By: Dustin Johnson

Despite the considerable research into the use of child soldiers over the past two decades, there are still many areas that remain under-explored in the literature. One of these is the intersection of disability and the experience of child soldiering. Last year, Dallaire Initiative research officer Dustin Johnson and executive director Dr. Shelly Whitman wrote an article for a special issue of the journal Third World Thematics on child soldiers and disability, which was recently published.

In this article we explore the current state of knowledge on child soldiers and disability, opportunities that the post-conflict environment can provide for improved inclusion, and what avenues exist for us to be more inclusive in our own work. It is important when considering disability to view it from the social perspective: inevitably, some people have physical, mental, or sensory impairments which interfere with their everyday functioning. Disability results when stigma, ignorance, and lack of inclusivity marginalizes impaired people and prevents them from fully participating in society. Disability can be addressed by changing the attitudes, policies, and environments which disable.

There has been little research previously specifically on child soldiers and disability; most relevant studies have either focused on specific mental or physical injuries which may lead to disability, or on disability among children or ex-combatants in general. There is a high likelihood that at least some child soldiers will emerge from conflict with a disability, leaving them even more marginalized. Therefore, it is critical that services provided to demobilizing child soldiers be inclusive, and support the specific needs to disabled children. Civilian children also face many of the same traumas which can lead to impairment, and should not be neglected.

There are often substantial changes to national laws and institutions during the post-conflict reconstruction period, providing a valuable window to shift norms and promote inclusivity. Reconstruction of physical infrastructure also provides an opportunity to build it into international accessibility standards. When it comes to child soldiers, the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) process is the most important area for inclusivity. Current international standards for DDR make some advances in this area, but a more explicit consideration of disability is needed to ensure that accessibility is not ignored as it too often is. Marginalization due to disability could potentially leave children vulnerable to re-recruitment in the future, so inclusive DDR is important for conflict prevention as well as being just.

The researching and writing of this paper was our first intentional examination of the intersection of disability and our work. A number of opportunities exist for us to be more inclusive in our work, including partnering with disability focused organizations in countries we work in, and using our high-level advocacy contacts to advance inclusivity in relation to child soldiers.

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Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Children during Armed Conflict:

By: Darin Reeves

Following an intense week of classroom lectures, small group meetings and the input from every participant, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative led training to end the use of child soldiers, in partnership with AMISOM and the British Peace Support Team (East Africa) (BPST-EA), took to the field on Monday. This course, hosted at the Humanitarian and Peace Support School (HPSS) located in Embakasi, Kenya, is the first of its kind and brings together AMISOM and Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) personnel to learn how to better end this horrible abuse of children.

Key to the innovative Dallaire Initiative led training is the use of field scenarios to take classroom lessons and bring them to life. In addition to combining the unique capabilities and expertise of all those concerned with protecting child rights, including security sector actors (military, police, corrections and border services), government departments and NGOs, this field training shows all participants the complexity and challenge of implementing lofty goals into real action.

Representing the Government of Canada to oversee commencement of this training was Her Excellency Ms. Sara Hradecky, High Commissioner of Canada to Kenya. Joined by Colonel Richard Leakey, Commander BPST-EA, and Colonel Elija Mwanyika, Commander HPSS, H.E. Hradecky expressed to all participants the confidence and support of the Canadian Government, and the symbolic importance that this field training was commencing on International Red Hand Day, dedicated to drawing attention to the fates of child soldiers.

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Statement to Commemorate Red Hand Day

Dr. Shelly Whitman

Letter from Dr. Shelly Whitman

Executive Director of The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

Some 250 million children are affected  armed conflict around the globe. Today, in every conflict that exists, children are vulnerable to being recruited and used by adults. Their tactical and strategic use sustains and increases the severity of conflict while tearing at the fabric of societies affected by war.

This February 12th, the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers (Red Hand Day), offers us an opportunity to reflect on this sober reality and discuss how we can ultimately work towards ending the use of children as soldiers.

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative continues to be at the forefront of this fight, developing innovative tools and training for the security sector – military, police, prison personnel and peacekeepers—while creating ground-breaking research and high-level advocacy to create new solutions.

To mark Red Hand Day we are launching the third edition of our landmark publication, Child Soldiers: A Handbook for Security Sector Actors and the first edition of our maritime handbook, Children Used in Maritime Piracy: A Handbook for Maritime Security Sector Actors. These two handbooks aim to proactively and positively engage the security sector actors to prioritize the prevention of the use of child soldiers as a critical element to the protection of children and conflict prevention measures.

Canada has now taken the lead to ensure this ethos and approach is undertaken by the Canadian Armed Forces through the development of a Doctrine on Child Soldiers. The significance of this doctrine cannot be understated. Within its lines, not only is a baseline set for how Canada understands and actively assists in preventing the use of child soldiers, but how we will better prepare the men and women who face this reality in the field. Read our full statement on this important step forward here.

In a world of competing priorities, it is important we elevate the need to protect children from violence and abuse. A Children’s Rights Upfront approach will build points of collaboration and create momentum on the international peace and security agenda.  The concerted efforts of many are required to create a world where children are no longer used as weapons of war.

All forward together,

Dr. Shelly Whitman

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Statement on Canadian Armed Forces Doctrine on Child Soldiers

LGen Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d) and Dr. Shelly Whitman

By: LGen Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d) and Dr. Shelly Whitman

Innovation has always been at the core ethos of Canada and our armed forces. From our tactical innovations of the creeping barrage and counter-battery fire at Vimy Ridge some 100 years ago to the creation of the concept of peacekeeping as we know it today, Canada has and continues to innovate when facing the evolving realities of war and attempts to build peace.

Today, Canada, in collaboration with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, has once again lead from the front with the creation of our Canadian Armed Forces Doctrine on Child Soldiers. This first of its kind document is a testament to Canada and our willingness to tackle one of the most pressing paradoxes of our time, the use of children as weapons of war.

The significance of this doctrine cannot be understated. Within its lines, not only is a baseline set for how Canada understands and actively assists to prevent the use of child soldiers, but how we will better prepare the men and women who face this reality in the field. This will ensure that our armed forces can undertake an active role in helping end this reality of war.

The uses of children as weapons of war are not chosen through sheer happenstance. They are a tactical and strategic choice, deployed to achieve a specific aim. Through this doctrine and the coordination of training that will follow across all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces, our men and women in uniform will be able to attrite this tactical and strategic use of children at its root and reduce casualties on all sides.

Today, we are one step closer to protecting those who serve and the children used as weapons of war. We applaud Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces and know that this critical doctrine will provide a leading example to our NATO allies, in peace support operations with the UN, as well as our partners in global missions towards ending the use of child soldiers once and for all.

####

For Media Inquires

Josh Boyter

Director of Communications, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

[email protected]

1 902 494 2392 (office)

1 902 489. 6767 (cell)

About the Organization

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

The Dallaire Initiative, based at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, is recognized as the only organization in the world taking a prevention-oriented, security sector focused approach to the crime against humanity that is child soldiery. Founded by retired lieutenant-general and celebrated humanitarian Roméo Dallaire, The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative is a leader committed to ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers worldwide, through ground-breaking research, advocacy, and security-sector training.

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ISIS and Child Soldiers: Breaking Cycles of Conflict

By: Dustin Johnson

In January, the Times of London published an insightful feature by Anthony Loyd about the use of children by ISIS. In the article, Loyd meets a 21-year-old man who had fought for ISIS whom Kurdish security forces had captured and tortured. The man had been recruited at the age of 13 by ISIS’s predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and had spent the previous 8 years fighting and killing for the group. In this young man he sees someone whose formative years of childhood have been stolen, but has also missed the normal experiences that lead to adulthood:

There was something else there that lent him the fractured aura of youth: a peculiar absence of adulthood. As if somehow all that should have naturally evolved within his mind during his teenage years – rationale and reason, preconcepts and the roots of self-belief – were missing. Just the frightful postgraduation of terror remained, so that seated before me he was at once the echo of a lost boy and the whisper of an unformed man.

Loyd goes on to discuss the thorough system of indoctrination and normalization to violence ISIS uses on children to provide an unending supply of dedicated fighters, explicitly planning for a generational war. The longer ISIS continues to fight and be able to recruit children, the more Iraq, Syria, and the international community will have to deal with this challenge. For those under the age of 18 who are removed from the group, proper rehabilitation and deradicalization are needed, and there are positive signs for the success of such problems as Loyd discusses, and the Dallaire Initiative has advocated for in our partnership with the Quilliam Foundation.

For those who were recruited as children but are now adults, such as the young man Loyd interviews, trickier questions are raised, similar to those now facing the International Criminal Court in the case of Dominic Ongwen. For someone who is recruited as a young child, indoctrinated, and forced to commit violence by adults, what degree of responsibility before the law should they face? While the case of Ongwen is particularly extreme, as he rose from an 11-year-old abductee to be one of the top commanders in the Lord’s Resistance Army, this challenge will have to be faced for hundreds if not thousands of children who fought for ISIS.

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