Putting an end to the recruitment and use of children as soldiers requires a multifaceted effort, in which regional security sector actors have a crucial and significant role.
This was highlighted at a virtual regional meeting on Friday, February 12, the first of its kind where security sector professionals and high-level dignitaries of governments from Africa convened to mark the Red Hand Day.
The meeting was organized by the Dallaire Institute for Children Peace and Security in partnership with Rwanda Defence Force, (RDF).
Founded by celebrated Canadian humanitarian Lt Gen (rtd) Romeo Dallaire, the Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative is a global partnership committed to ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers worldwide, through ground-breaking research, advocacy, and security-sector training.
Every year, February 12, the world celebrates the Red Hand Day also known as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, a day which marks the anniversary of the signing of a protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that forbids the use of children in conflict.
Maj. Gen. Ferdinand Safari, the RDF Director General of Policy and Strategy addressing the virtual meeting.
But despite the existence of this protocol, officials said that children are still being forced into conflict in various countries, including some that have ratified the treaty.
During the meeting, officials exchanged discussions that aimed to empower nations to take proactive, early and coordinated action to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by implementing the Vancouver Principles.
Rwanda was the first African nation to endorse the Vancouver Principles, according to Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Safari, RDF Director General of Policy and Strategy.
“As the first African nation to endorse the Vancouver Principles, the Government of Rwanda took a leadership position on the issues of the prevention of the recruitment and use of children as soldiers in conflicts globally.
Officers from the Somali Defence Forces during the virtual training.
This commitment remains essential to achieving real change in the lives of children in our region especially in countries affected by conflict, “he said.
Gen. Safari noted that, “It is a great opportunity that Rwanda in partnership with the Dallaire Institute can convene experts and trained security sector professionals from the region to discuss about the role security sector professionals can play in helping to end the involvement of children in conflicts as they share best practices which can be replicated to drive effective implementation of the Vancouver principles.”
“We have learned that training the security sector actors is an entry point to the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers.” He said.
Since 2012, he pointed out, the Dallaire Institute has supported the efforts of the Government of Rwanda in creating meaningful impact in the prevention of the recruitment of children and use by training personnel deployed in various peace support operations.
Like Rwanda, the Institute has trained hundreds of Security Sector professionals on prevention of the recruitment and use of children as soldiers in other African countries.
As a result, the Dallaire institute announced last year the creation of the African Centre of Excellence (ACOE), established in Kigali to provide strategic leadership, coordination and a collaborative platform for regional security sector professionals working to end the recruitment and use of children in violence.
At the meeting, Dr. Shelly Whitman, Executive Director for the Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security called upon represented countries to ensure that the vice is a priority.
“This is no longer a sideline issue that we deal with once the bigger issues related to economics, health, or any of the other matters related to security are dealt with,” she added, “This is a central part of how we should be approaching peace and security.”
When we talk about the children’s peace and security agenda, it is because we want the world to understand that in terms of achieving peace and security globally, we can’t do it if we continue to recruit children, she reiterated.
Raising the issue on top of the agenda
According to Dr. Whitman, policy makers are indebted with a humanity duty to protect children from joining armed forces as well as armed groups.
“For too long, too many have been focusing on these issues as peace mill fashion. And what we are doing is to bring them together; those who are working on issues that range from child labor, to trafficking of children, co-sexual violence against children to actions related to children in armed conflicts and to the inter-sections of all those elements that we can start to talk holistically how we can raise this issue higher on the peace and security agenda.”
Consequently, she explained, if those who have the responsibility to provide peace and security are not aware of their specific roles, “then we are missing a huge aspect of how we can address this issue.”
Dr Whitman added, “Nations need to take this seriously, policy makers need to take this seriously.”
Whitman shares similar sentiments with Musa Gbow, Regional Training Manager for the ACOE, who cited that, “This is a truly impressive effort to engage policy makers in one of the most appalling human rights abuses.”
Musa noted that recruitment of children as soldiers violates international law and human decency.
The major impact of the work done by the Dallaire Initiative is attributed to Rwanda spearheading the implementation of the Vancouver Principle but also the global partnerships established with the Germany Government and Canadian Government enabling this work to be performed.
During Fall 2021, the Government of Rwanda will host the third Annual Knowledge for Prevention (K4P) Workshop on Early Warning to Early Action in Kigali.