In December 2020, Belgium will end its mandate as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. On this occasion, the WING (War Is Not a Game) platform - made up of WAPA, Justice & Paix, GRIP and the Belgian Red Cross - launched a petition to ask Belgium to encourage states to improve children’s protection against recruitment and participation in hostilities.
Child soldiers have been exploited throughout history. Currently, while there is no way to count the exact number of child soldiers it is estimated that there are 250,000 - 300,000, who are recruited and used as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. There are many ways around how and why children become involved in conflict with armed forces and groups. Some children are abducted and beaten into submission; others join military groups to escape poverty, to defend their communities, out of a feeling of revenge or for other reasons. There are also many interpretations and how to help children recover from trauma.
Who Are Child Soldiers?
A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who 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, spies. (See: Paris Principles 2007)
Children have less knowledge of war and a less developed sense of danger so they are willing to be sent out on a variety of dangerous missions and sometimes recruited for suicide missions. Girls are often used as “wives” (sexual slaves) for male soldiers; it is estimated that 30% of child soldiers are females. Children also require little food and are expendable and replaceable due to the large number of children in developing countries.
Regardless of how children are recruited and of their roles, child soldiers are victims, whose participation in conflict bears serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being. They are commonly subject to abuse and most of them witness death, killing, and sexual violence. Many are forced to commit violent acts and some suffer serious long-term psychological consequences.
"The use of children in armed conflict is to mortgage their future and the future of society as a whole. War is not a game for children; it engenders all the misfortunes of the world by condemning children in the spiral of violence" (Patrick BALEMBA, Justice et Paix Senior).
The reintegration of these children into civilian life is an essential part of the work to help child soldiers rebuild their lives. However, often children cannot go back to their families and communities because they were forced to kill family members or neighbors. The armies often do this intentionally so that children will not be able to run away and return home. Girls often become pregnant and mother the children of rebels who will not be accepted by their families.
In 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict to protect children from recruitment and use in hostilities.
International law states that the recruitment and use of child soldiers under the age of 15 is a war crime. Two-thirds of countries believe that forced enrollment under the age of 18 should be banned and that voluntary enlistment should not be allowed under the age of 16.
In June 2013, the United Nations set a goal of abolishing child soldiers globally by 2016. In 2014, with UNICEF, the Special Representative launched the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers” to bring about a global consensus that child soldiers should not be used in conflict. The campaign was designed to generate momentum, political will and international support to turn the page once and for all on the recruitment of children by national security forces in conflict situations.
The campaign received support from Member States, UN, NGO partners, regional organizations and the general public. The UN Security Council and General Assembly welcomed “Children, Not Soldiers” and requested regular updates through the Special Representative’s reporting.
At the time of the launch, the countries concerned by the campaign were: Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen. Representatives from each of these countries attended the launch event and expressed their full support to reach the objectives of “Children, Not Soldiers”.
The campaign ended in 2016, but the consensus envisioned is not yet a reality even though thousands of child soldiers have been released and reintegrated and all Governments concerned by the Campaign are engaged in an Action Plan process with the United Nations.
Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo put in place all necessary measures to end and prevent the recruitment of children in their armed forces. Crises in South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen have hampered, but there has progress in Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, and a reduction in verified cases of recruitment and use of children by national security forces in Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Sudan.
“Hundreds of thousands of children have probably been associated with armed forces or groups over the past decade. The reintegration of these children often remains marginal in peace processes. They must be given the means to rebuild their lives with their families and their communities by offering them real alternatives, such as education or vocational training which allow them to secure a future and above all to avoid any risk of a new recruitment" (F. Cassier Croix-Rouge Belgique).
Here to sign the petition, a page where can be found also the Belgium minister of Foreign affairs to help reaching the objective of 5 000 signatures!