Children and Armed Conflict

The rights, safety and lives of millions of children are threatened by the brutality of armed conflict. According to UNICEF estimates:

 
More than 300,000 child soldiers are currently exploited in situations of armed conflict.

6 million children have been severely injured or permanently disabled.

An estimated 20 million children are living as refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced within their own national borders as a result of conflict and human rights violations.
 

Even after the guns are silent, children still feel the effects of war. Many children are displaced due to armed conflict, and those who return to their homes are often left as the heads of their households. Some children have permanent disabilities as a result of landmines, while many more suffer the psychological trauma of abduction, detention, sexual violence, and the brutal murder of family members.

The United Nations and the international community use the term “children and armed conflict” to capture the following six grave violations against children in situations of conflict:

  • the recruitment and use of children as soldiers*;
  • rape and other grave sexual violence against children;
  • killing and maiming of children;
  • abduction of children;
  • attacks against schools or hospitals;
  • denial of humanitarian access for children.

* The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict prohibits the compulsory recruitment and the direct participation in hostilities by the forces of a State of persons under the age of 18.

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1882 (PDF Version, 42 KB)* in August 2009 and Resolution 1998 (PDF Version, 46 KB)* in July 2011 both with Canada’s co-sponsorship. These resolutions built upon their predecessor, Resolution 1612 (PDF Version, 39 KB)* adopted in June 2005 which introduced a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism that presented a new opportunity for states to achieve substantive progress on this issue by tracking the recruitment and use of children as soldiers as well as the means by which to respond to ongoing violations. Resolution 1612 also established a Security Council Working Group to oversee the implementation of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism. Under Resolution 1612, only situations that involved the grave violation of the recruitment and use of children as soldiers triggered the establishment of a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism country team.

Resolution 1882 expanded the triggers for the establishment of a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism in a country of concern to include two additional grave violations in situations of conflict: rape and other grave sexual violence against children and the killing and maiming of children. Only one of the three violations must have occurred in order to trigger the establishment of a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism country team. This is a groundbreaking development. For example, prior to the adoption of Resolution 1882, a situation where children were sexually abused in armed conflict would only have been documented if a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism country team was established due to the occurence of the grave violation of the recruitment and use of children as soldiers. Resolution 1998 further expands the triggers for the establishment of a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism to include the grave violation of attacks against schools and hospitals.

The data collected by the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism feeds into the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. The 2011 report (PDF Version, 242 KB)* includes an annex which list offenders (state and/or non-state actors) that commit one of more of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism trigger violations against children in conflict situations in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Myanmar, Nepal, Somalia and Sudan (including Darfur). Parties in Colombia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Yemen are listed as offenders in a second annex to the report, as the countries are not on the Security Council agenda.

Resolutions 1882 and 1998 also focus on accountability by calling for greater cooperation and information sharing between the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and the relevant Sanctions Committees in an effort to hold those who commit grave violations against children and armed conflict to account for their actions.

Canada’s Historical Role on the Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict

Canada has long been recognized as a leading advocate on children and armed conflict. Canada hosted the first International Conference on War-Affected Children in Winnipeg in 2000, galvanizing support from the international community to address children and armed conflict issues. Canada played a strong role in the creation and negotiation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and was an early supporter of the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. During its tenure on the Security Council in 1999-2000, Canada introduced the first thematic debate on children in armed conflict.

In 2006 Canada established and continues to chair the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict, an informal New York-based network of over 38 member states. This group provides a venue to discuss a variety of issues and provides for a united front to advocate the United Nations Security Council to take stronger measures aimed at those who commit grave violations. Canada also endorsed the February 2007 Paris Principles which provide guidelines for all actors working in the field to prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict and to reintegrate children affected by war.

Canada’s Continued Commitment to the Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict

Canada’s advocacy, policy work and strategic programming toward a new Security Council Resolution on Children and Armed Conflict has borne fruit with the adoption of Resolution 1882 in August 2009. This is a concrete example of the role that policy-relevant projects can play in advancing international norms. Two projects in particular funded through Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s Glyn Berry Program contributed to the advancement of the file: a report and advocacy campaign by Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict on helping to shape a new resolution as a follow-up to Resolution 1612 (PDF Version, 1.4 MB)* and; GPSF 08-095, a report by Conflict Dynamics to advocate the UN Security Council to take stronger action to make persistent perpetrators more accountable (PDF Version, 1.48 MB)*. Resolution 1882 contains many of the recommendations that were found in these reports.

Canada has contributed over $1.3 million since 2006 to policy development projects related to children and armed conflict through Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s Glyn Berry Program, including the two projects outlined above.

Through the Glyn Berry Program and Canada’s role as Chair of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, Canada will continue to support concrete initiatives and advocate the international community to advance the protection of children affected by armed conflict. The areas of focus for Canada’s programming and advocacy efforts are:

  1. Strengthening the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism. Since its inception in 2005, the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism’s responsibilities have grown tremendously. A strong Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism and country teams will produce data that will garner international attention to the issue and help bring forward more targeted measures to bring parties who commit grave violations against children in situations of conflict to account.

  2. Accountability of parties who commit grave violations against children in situations of conflict. More sustained follow-up by the United Nations Security Council after data is collected by the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism is needed in order to bring parties who persistently commit grave violations to justice.

  3. Supporting efforts to expand the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism to encompass all grave violations. An incremental approach to expanding the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism with the eventual goal of encompassing all grave violations.

Canada is committed to ending the use of girls and boys in hostilities and to helping ensure that children affected by armed conflict around the world are protected. In pursuit of this goal, Canada continues to work with other governments and with international organizations to address these issues through multiple channels.


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