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The world is failing to protect its children

Original Article Link: http://bit.ly/1rqhBU6

By: LGen Roméo Dallaire

In our fight against Boko Haram, protecting children must be a priority security concern. Last week, the international community recognized the two-year mark of the abduction of the more than 200 Chibok girls into the ranks of Boko Haram. Between the renewed calls for justice and the continuing protection of children in Nigeria, a nagging question continued to be ignored.

What drives Boko Haram to continue to capture and use children?

Today, children are both the primary driver and casualty of conflict. The international impact of war on children is truly staggering. According to Unicef in 2014, more than 230 million children lived in countries affected by conflict, with some 15 million directly touched by it. As of 2015, one in every eight births will occur in an area of conflict. Children continue to swell the ranks of seven state armies and 50 non-state armed groups to be used as soldiers in 14 countries and contexts around the globe.

Children were once used as soldiers only as a last resort, but are now viewed as the primary weapon that armed groups and state armies across the globe use to fight their wars. The bleak reality of modern conflict is that the use of children as weapons of war is not ad hoc but strategic. Commanders, in state armies and non-state armed groups, use children because they fill specific tactical and strategic aims.

The stats in relation to Boko Haram’s ongoing use of child soldiers are grim. According to Unicef, 44 children, many of them girls, were strapped with bombs and detonated in markets across Nigeria as suicide bombers. Boys are forced to attack their own families to demonstrate loyalty to Boko Haram, while girls are exposed to sexual violence and forced marriage to fighters.

Unfortunately, the more than 200 girls who were captured were only the beginning of a larger campaign of abductions that has and will continue to feed Boko Haram’s continuing campaign of violence over the past two years. While Boko Haram’s territory continues to shrink, its strategic use of children as weapons has enabled it to wage its campaign unabated. Until children are made a priority security concern, this cycle of abduction and violence will not be broken. One critical aspect of this is ensuring the protection of schools from attack.

There is a significant movement to protect education from attack: the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, which found that there are disturbing patterns of attacks on education. Attacks on schools are prohibited under international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition to death and injury, attacks on schools can create a pervasive fear that can lead to school dropout rates increasing and destruction of infrastructure. The abduction of the Chibok girls represents this disturbing trend and more needs to be done to put tangible efforts into protecting the schools. Resources, as well as training of security personnel, must be a priority in achieving this.

In prioritizing the protection of children we can achieve tangible means and action to ending the conflict in Nigeria. However, this will require a concerted effort by not only the international community and local actors but also the implementation of an innovative holistic approach that recognizes the continuing humanitarian and security dimensions of the reality on the ground.

child soldiers isis

Dallaire: How Canada can defuse ISIL’s child soldiers

Original Article Link Here: bit.ly/1oGRtD3

By: LGen Roméo Dallaire and Dr. Shelly Whitman

In our fight against the Islamic State (ISIL), it is not only guns and bombs that we face, but children used as weapons of war. This is a profound aspect of the conflict and one that we cannot, and must not, wait to address on the battlefield.

These children are used to move deftly between the ranks providing adult fighters with ammunition or supplies. They are strapped with bombs and detonated in public areas, to devastating effect. They are used in propaganda and to recruit other children. They are even used to provide blood from their own bodies to treat wounded fighters.

It can be hard to distinguish child soldiers from adult soldiers on the battlefield. However, there are multiple ways to prevent and interact with children beyond the battlefield that can reduce the fighting force capability. These options are completely impossible from the cockpit of a plane at 10,000 ft.

This is a conflict that requires boots on the ground. But it is high time we become more intelligent about the roles the boots on the ground can effectively undertake, with new tools and preparation.

The recruitment and use of child soldiers in the fight with ISIL represents a complex reality that requires a multifaceted approach. Canada’s decision to remove our CF-18s from airstrikes and increase our training presence recognizes a tacit understanding that this conflict cannot be fought through only one dimension. It recognizes that ISIL is focused on preparing a new generation to sustain the fight, and regional forces must be prepared to face this long into the future. It also recognizes that the recruitment and use of children is predicated on a narrative that is not solved by airstrikes, but is instead amplified.

ISIL’s efforts to enlist and use the “cubs of caliphate” provides a glimpse of the lengths that it is prepared to go to, along with its long-term strategy for this conflict. Its use of children as weapons of war represents a specific tactical and strategic response to reach its ultimate goals. At the same time, we should recognize that ISIL is not the only armed group using child soldiers in Iraq and Syria.

Training of local forces is a key gap that has yet to be addressed  to interrupt this use of child soldiers and remove the strategic advantage that ISIL and others currently possess in using children. When equipped with the tools to address how children are used as instruments of war, our troops and partners on the ground can intervene in a prevention-oriented manner to ultimately protect children as well as themselves.

Over the past year, my organization, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, has begun critical conversations with the Canadian Forces to begin the process of introducing new doctrine and training to address the threat of child soldiers. This unique approach to the security dimension of preventing child soldiers could put Canada ahead of the Brits, the French, even the Americans. It is an approach that is vital to support the troops in the Syria/Iraq conflict.

Earlier this month, my organization partnered with Wounded Warriors Canada, launching a new program that will leverage the skills and experience of Canadian veterans to enhance training. The Dallaire Initiative’s Veteran Trainers to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers (VTECS) program will equip a substantial cadre of Canadian veterans to become trainers on our unique approach and enable new approaches to end the use and recruitment of child soldiers.

Innovative programs such as VTECS are required to ensure that those who continue to serve on the battlefield have the skills necessary to be effective in facing the realities of modern conflict. Secondly, the VTECS program provides tangible skills transition for our Canadian Forces veterans to apply their hard-earned experience on the battlefield to a new mission.

Removing the tactical advantages of using children as weapons of war requires preparation and training of professional forces. We can then greatly diminish the fighting capacity of groups such as ISIL, and interrupt the recruitment of other children. Through our training efforts in the region, we can effectively build this capacity with local forces. This approach can go a long way to prevent conflict and mitigate the impact of conflict overall.

Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant general, retired Canadian senator and founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative; Dr. Shelly Whitman is the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

Ottawa Citizen: Time to put the blue beret back on

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

As of October 2015, Canada has a total of 116 security personnel — police, military and observers — serving overseas as peacekeepers, which ranks us 66th in the world by total contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. Are we not the birthplace of peacekeeping and home of this proud tradition?

Today, Canada contributes its 116 peacekeepers across 5 of the 18 United Nations peacekeeping missions currently underway around the globe. Canada has in recent years increased its efforts as part of NATO coalitions — specifically Afghanistan and Syria — while lessening our role with UN peacekeeping.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made reengaging with United Nations peacekeeping operations a clear priority. But what should our reengagement on peacekeeping look like after so many years playing such a minor role?

As peacekeeping has evolved, so should our contributions. Peacekeeping missions do not only require battalions of resources and boots on the ground. Increasingly they require specialized troops or materials that can perform specific tasks and help reinforce the larger mandate of the mission.

Let’s take for example the United Nations Assistance Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS), which stands as one of Canada’s largest UN peacekeeping contributions with 12 peacekeepers deployed.

South Sudan currently represents the UN’s second largest humanitarian mission, with a peacekeeping force of 11,350 troops. With at least 16,000 child soldiers being used by all sides, splintering factions and fluid alliances, South Sudan represents a potent mixture of fragile peace and open conflict that has devolved to mass atrocities on occasion.

Having recently returned from a high-level advocacy mission to South Sudan for the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and UNICEF South Sudan, we can attest that the situation is dire. Establishing sustained peace in South Sudan will only be possible with the full support of peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, and a recognition that children and youth be made central to the attainment of peace and security.

UNMISS has continually been hampered with a lack of strategic assets — rapid response teams, aircrafts and analytical staff – needed to support the ongoing efforts of humanitarians and to bring security to sections of the country where it is desperately needed. Central to this are the enormous challenges of dealing with massive numbers of child soldiers both on the humanitarian and security fronts.

With over a decade of experience fighting in complex environments in the Middle East, Canada has developed and maintained many of these critical resources that are needed by the UN in South Sudan. It would be an utter waste to let these resources atrophy, and maintain the status quo. Providing assets — rapid response teams, aircrafts and analytical staff, and new tools — will go a long way in beginning to fulfill our government’s promise to reengage in a meaningful way with UN peace operations.

In addition, supporting innovative efforts such as raising children on the peace and security agenda, blending security sector and educational approaches, committing strategic assets, and supporting the efforts of our highly competent diplomatic staff located in South Sudan will signal Canada’s re-investment in UN peacekeeping operations and create results. Supporting these efforts will lead to lasting peace to South Sudan.

If Canada wants to once again to engage with UN peacekeeping operations, we need to be able to commit on multiple fronts and provide more durable and innovative interventions to address conditions on the ground. For far too long, countries have dictated to missions what they will provide, without the information or insight of what is actually needed.

Canada is in a position to regain its place as an innovator and leader in peacekeeping operations around the globe. On Dec. 10, the UN Security Council will debate the renewal of the peacekeeping mandate for South Sudan.

It is time to show that Canada is indeed back as peacekeeper, peacemaker and honest broker.

Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general, celebrated humanitarian and founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. Dr. Shelly Whitman is the Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

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.

Dallaire & Whitman: The children of the Syrian conflict have been seen, now we must act

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By: LGen Roméo Dallaire and Dr. Shelly Whitman

In the ongoing Syrian conflict, the numbers of vulnerable children are truly staggering.

Over 10.8-million people — half of Syria’s total population — are in need of humanitarian assistance. Some 6.8-million individuals are internally displaced, with many others taking refuge in neighbouring countries. Casualties have become so numerous — last estimated at 220,000 — that the UN has officially stopped counting, a first in the organization’s 70-year existence.

As in every conflict, it is the most vulnerable who are disproportionately affected. Approximately six-million children find themselves out of school, with 4.6 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Countless others continue to be forced, coerced or “volunteered” to take up arms with the myriad of groups fighting in the region, chief among them ISIL, which now controls large swaths of the region.

Today we are five years into a conflict that should not have lasted five days. At the earliest onset of this conflict, the international community had countless opportunities to exert its will and uphold the rights of the most vulnerable. This embarrassing inaction is particularly worrying for the hundreds of thousands of children whose rights to education, protection and basic human dignity have been denied.

Lamentably, it has taken the heartbreaking image of a young drowned refugee, Alan Kurdi, for the international community to again look at the continued suffering of millions. But are we too late? Today, thousands of children take up arms as some flee to hostile neighbours while others languish in refugee camps, not knowing their fate and slowly losing their dignity as each day passes.

A young man we met in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp best summarizes this stark reality. He asked us rhetorically, “Is it better to die fighting to save my home than to die in this camp doing nothing?” Chatting with him or any one of his peers for a couple of moments makes you realize that this conflict is not black and white.

There are significant long-term effects to the continued lack of protection afforded to children, particularly the escalation and development of a cycle of violence. By failing to act, we are not only failing those children who suffer today, but we put at risk the future of the entire region and beyond.

With the increasingly complicated conflict in Syria, points of collaboration can be few and far between. However, it is through the children that we can ultimately make a concerted effort to affect real and sustained change to the current atmosphere of indifference and inaction within the Syrian conflict.

Not until the image of Alan Kurdi’s untimely death did citizens begin to question why we have so far done nothing to end the suffering of thousands

There is a necessity to raise the issue of children to the top of the security agenda. Only when this is accomplished will we truly find a point for collaboration to address the ongoing needs of children affected by the conflict in Syria. The death of Alan Kurdi is proof of this. Not until the image of his untimely death did citizens begin to question why we have so far done nothing to end the suffering of thousands. Our collective inaction will be held to account.

If we fail to address these conflicts early on, eventually the young people affected will come knocking on our doors, by boat, through social media or horrific images in the mainstream media. Pleading ignorance to the realities of contemporary conflict can no longer be an excuse for those who have the privilege to observe. The children of the Syrian conflict have been seen, we now must “hear” their cries and act.

Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general, retired Canadian Senator and founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative; Dr. Shelly Whitman is the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

Child Soldiers and ISIS

By: Dr. Shelly Whitman

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Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF claimed that 2014 was the most devastating year ever for children. It is not hard to see why. With over 15 million children directly affected by conflict and children used as soldiers in 14 countries, by 50 armed groups and seven state armies, violence continues to be a mainstay in many children’s lives. One of the most significant reasons for these staggering numbers was the rise of ISIS, who are flagrant in their use and recruitment of children.

While the use of children as weapons of war may appear counter intuitive at first glance, armed groups such as ISIS use child soldiers for their real and perceived strategic advantages. Children can fill and undertake roles that adults are either unwilling or unfit to do. Worryingly, ISIS has used children in its current fight that have not appeared in other conflicts, such as providing blood transfusions to injured adult fighters on the frontline. This is in addition to their use of children as suicide bombers, checkpoint guards, or in sexual servitude, among others.

Alarmingly, ISIS has documented this use of child soldiers with the rigour and professionalism of a major media outlet. Images of children partaking in executions or their indoctrination in training camps continue to be shared far and wide, encouraging young women and men around the globe to join their fight. Their images are even inspiring other armed groups to emulate their use and documentation of children being used as soldiers.

We have witnessed elsewhere in the world that the use of child soldiers increases the severity and longevity of conflict. Their use may also coincide with instances of mass atrocities and create a cyclical nature to conflict. Therefore, the ongoing use of child soldiers by ISIS creates a generational aspect to the current fight. Even if adult fighters from ISIS are removed from the battlefield today, they have already indoctrinated the next generation to take up their fight.

While a solution to the issue of child soldiers may not appear apparent, there are pathways forward. Our global approach must be multifaceted, including not only humanitarian programs or responses and international law deterrents, but also the security sector actors who are often in a position to prevent the use of child soldiers in the first place. Through framing the issue of children in armed conflict as a specific priority concern for security sector actors, we can develop better policies and strategies to limit the use of children as weapons of war, remove their strategic advantage and ultimately prevent their recruitment.

Dr. Shelly Whitman is the Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative was established in 2007 by retired lieutenant-general the honourable Roméo Dallaire, former force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR).  Our mission is to progressively eradicate the use of child soldiers through a preventative security sector approach. To achieve this important objective, the Dallaire Initiative conducts activities on three fronts: (1) It conducts world-class interdisciplinary research to build—and share—knowledge, which in turn leads to newsolutions; (2) It engages in high-level advocacy activities to create and promote the political will to end the use of children as soldiers; (3) It delivers tactical, prevention-oriented training to security sector actors, so as to promote broader security sector reform.

Nigeria’s children won’t be saved with hashtags alone

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By: LGen Roméo Dallaire and Dr. Shelly Whitman

Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general, and a Senator. In 1993, LGen. Dallaire was appointed Force Commander for UNAMIR, where he bore witness to the Rwandan genocide; Shelly Whitman is the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

In the past week, the story of hundreds of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria has been prominent in the media, the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has become commonplace on social media feeds, and the global outcry for action has continued to grow in volume.

The global conscience is tormented by how such an appalling act can take place with impunity. The public’s hunger for answers results in simplified storylines attempting to explain complex relationships and circumstances. Political imperatives are disguised and in the end children are the victims.

We discuss concepts of peace and war as if they exist in a vacuum and fail to understand the intricate connections between them. Rather than protecting the whole, governments focus instead on picking up the broken pieces once conflicts break out. By failing to actively protect peace, societies inevitably create the space for conflict to infiltrate. Understanding how issues such as trafficking, child labour and child soldiering are interconnected is a critical element of understanding how to protect peace.

The girls who were abducted by the Boko Haram may be tomorrow’s front-line combatants in a conflict against the Nigerian Government. We only need to look as far as the Aboke Girls of Northern Uganda, who were captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army and quickly employed as soldiers to wage their war. Claims that the girls in Nigeria will be sold as wives and sex slaves must be understood as a tactic applied to child soldiers in war.

Once conflict takes hold, the basis is created for continued strife and violence, particularly if children are involved. The biggest predictor of violent behavior is initial exposure to violence. We need to break that cycle.

It is not enough to condemn the heinous act of stealing these children. We must recognize this act as part of a larger systemic global problem that may not be stopped with simple solutions parachuted in from external sources.

The abduction of the girls illustrates that children can be a collective rallying point for the international community to come together and work towards the common good.

If we focus on the needs of children in times of peace, we can prevent conflict. We often overlook the security sector’s role in maintaining and promoting peace. This requires innovative approaches to reform this sector so as to place a priority on children and understand their critical link to overall peace and security. Soldiers should not be limited to an active role during conflict; rather, the security sector should be regarded as a key stakeholder in the protection of children and communities in times of peace.

The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag is a way of bringing the world’s attention to a critical issue, but it is still reactive. What we need now more than ever are sustainable solutions that require shifts in attitude and behaviour, and long-term policy changes.

Dallaire & Whitman: A world without child soldiers

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

February 12 is the International Day to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. On this day, and through the creation of international legal instruments, the world recognizes the use of children as soldiers as a grave violation of human rights. We acknowledge that a child soldier cannot be held criminally accountable for their actions while in an armed group and that it is the adults who cause this abuse who must be brought to justice.

The Paris Principles and Guidelines of 2007 outlines the definition and functions of a child soldier:

“A child soldier is any person below 18 years of age who is or has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking direct part in hostilities.”

The functions carried out by child soldiers are not restricted to a specific war, rather they resonate across continents, conflicts and armed groups or forces. However, Canadians’ reactions and emotional responses to child soldiers, and their portrayals — “child soldier” vs. “child terrorist” — seem to be coloured based on the conflict and the proximity of these conflicts to our own sense of security.

Is a young Islamic girl child used in a suicide bombing in Pakistan more blameless then the Christian boy used by drug traffickers in Mexico or the African boy used on the frontlines in the Democratic Republic of Congo or the girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria? Somehow each of these situations evokes very different images and assumptions to the Canadian observer — yet each illustrates children being used illegally and unscrupulously by adults.

The massive and horrific use of child soldiers by ISIS has brought a renewed urgency to this discussion. Whether these are Canadian youth lured to fight overseas by targeted social media campaigns or drawn into the fray by parents or family members, they represent a challenge to Canada’s commitment to upholding the international conventions we have signed on to.

How we choose to deal with — and even label — child soldiers at this moment is critical

Over 14 years ago, amongst the rubble of a freshly attacked hut in Afghanistan, American soldiers pulled out a gravely injured Omar Khadr. He was 15 years old and there under the direction of his father. American Forces accused Omar of inflicting a fatal wound on Sergeant Christopher Spear.

Under the auspices of Canadian and international law and norms, Omar Khadr was undoubtedly a child soldier. Canada established a dangerous precedent of recognizing his actions as those of an “adult terrorist” and not as a “child soldier.” What are the implications for our nation and others who are facing the return of children who were radicalized and used by armed groups be it under the flag of a terrorist group or rebel movement in a civil war? Do we send them all to prison? And if so, will our prisons only serve as a hotbed of radicalization?

How we choose to deal with — and even label — child soldiers at this moment is critical. Our commitment to national security must not be at the cost of our humanity and our duty to uphold the rights of the child. Our failure to do so may only serve to further the campaigns of extremists and those that prey on our youth.

Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general, celebrated humanitarian and founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. Dr. Shelly Whitman is the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.