Children and armed conflict
Around 250 million children live in fragile and conflict-affected areas.
Heightened levels of conflict, separation, displacement, and the breakdown of formal and informal protection systems make girls and boys particularly vulnerable to acts of violence.
Many children are displaced because of war. Those who are able to return home are often left as the heads of their households.
Some children have permanent disabilities as a result of landmines and other explosive devices, while many more suffer psychological trauma.
Conflict disrupts the education of millions of children and schools are increasingly being targeted for attack.
Families and communities have reduced ability to provide safe and secure environments for children. In conflict situations, children may face:
- sexual exploitation
- forced marriage
They may also face recruitment and active use in hostilities.
Efforts to advocate on children and armed conflict
Canada is committed to ending the use of girls and boys in hostilities and to making sure that children around the world are protected. Canada has long been recognized as a leading advocate on children and armed conflict. We continue to work with the international community to ensure that all children have safe spaces throughout the world in which to grow and learn.
On February 21, 2017, Canada continued its strong commitment to the promotion and protection of children’s rights by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration and the associated Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. For more information see:
Raising the profile of the issue of children and armed conflict
During Canada’s tenure on the United Nations’ Security Council in 1999-2000, Canada introduced the first thematic debate on children in armed conflict. We hosted the first International Conference on War-Affected Children in 2000. Canada was an early supporter of the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and currently provides funding to the Office.
Children, Not Soldiers campaign
Canada has provided $2 million to UNICEF’s Children, Not Soldiers campaign. The campaign’s goal is to end the recruitment and use of children by state armed forces. All eight states implicated have since signed Action Plans with the United Nations to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children.
The Special Representative, UNICEF and partners support their efforts to release and reintegrate children into civilian life. They also work to ensure all mechanisms are in place to end and prevent their recruitment and use.
Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict
Canada established and continues to chair the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict at the United Nations in New York. We participate in and lead a number of Groups of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict around the world. These Groups are international networks of countries which advocate for continued international attention and action on the issue.
Canadian initiatives related to children and armed conflict
In addition to advocating on these issues among the international community, Canada has funded a number of initiatives related to the prevention of recruitment and demobilisation of child soldiers. These initiatives, which have included projects in Colombia, South Sudan, and West and Central African countries, focus on:
- strengthening accountability
- community-based and research work to reintegrate former child soldiers
- preventing the recruitment of new child soldiers
We helped create the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2000. The Optional Protocol prohibits the forces of any state from recruiting persons under the age of 18 and using them in hostilities.
In November 2017, at the international peacekeeping conference in Vancouver, B.C., Canada introduced the Vancouver Principles. Adopted as an international political commitment by member states of the UN, the Vancouver Principles prioritizes the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers during a peacekeeping mission. Canada is a State Party of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and a strong supporter of the Court’s efforts to end impunity for serious international crimes, including crimes against children.
United Nations’ Security Council
The United Nations’ Security Council (UNSC) has identified six grave violations against children in conflict situations:
- recruitment or use of children as soldiers
- sexual violence against children
- killing and maiming of children
- abduction of children
- attacks against schools or hospitals
- denial of humanitarian access for children
In 2005, UNSC Resolution 1612 introduced the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism to track and respond to atrocities beyond the use of children as soldiers. Resolutions 1882, 1998, and 2225 adopted with Canada’s co-sponsorship in 2009, 2011 and 2015, respectively, expanded the list of violations that trigger a monitoring and reporting mechanism to five of the six (all save denial of humanitarian access for children).
These five grave violations during a conflict trigger the establishment of a country team to monitor and report on the situation. The data collected during these missions contributes to the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict which reports on the situation around the world and lists parties who commit violations.
The Vancouver Principles were developed to build on and complement the existing framework, while addressing some of its shortcomings. They are a set of pledges by member states for preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the context of UN peacekeeping operations, covering all stages of the conflict cycle. While some of the elements draw from the existing framework, the Vancouver Principles take a more assertive stance on preventing child recruitment in the context of peacekeeping operations, specifically with regard to early warning and the active prevention of recruitment. Moreover, the Vancouver Principles call on member states to establish new training and planning for their own forces.
Subscribing states to the Vancouver Principles commit to the following:
- Encouraging the inclusion of child protection mandates in peacekeeping operations;
- Prioritizing the prevention of the recruitment of children during the planning of peacekeeping operations;
- Addressing the early warning signs of child recruitment;
- Conducting field-focused training on interacting with child soldiers and preventing child recruitment;
- Appointing child protection focal points throughout mission command structures, both military and police;
- Implementing special measures for the detention of children;
- Acting decisively and effectively to prevent child recruitment as permitted by mission mandates and rules of engagement;
- Systematically reporting on abuses and grave violations against children in armed conflict;
- Investigating and disciplining any abuse of children by peacekeepers;
- Providing psychological support for peacekeepers faced by child soldiers;
- Including child protection in peace agreements;
- Sharing best practices; and
- Recognizing the critical roles of men and women in the protection of children and the prevention of recruitment of child soldiers.
- Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
- The Vancouver Principles
- Paris Principles (Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated With Armed Forces or Armed Groups)
- Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Ottawa Treaty)
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