UNSG_UNSCAddress-min

Child Soldiers and Peace: Mapping a New Pathway to Prevention

By: Dustin Johnson

Last Tuesday, Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations Secretary-General, delivered the first address of his term to the United Nations Security Council. In it, he emphasized the need for the UN and the international community to pursue a more preventative approach to peace and security, saying “we spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them. People are paying too high a price. Member States are paying too high a price. We need a whole new approach.”

At the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, we agree with this approach to peace and security. For too long, the international community has addressed the use of child soldiers in a largely reactive manner, seeking to demobilize them from armed forces and groups and rehabilitate them back into society. While this approach is important, it is also not sufficient. The Dallaire Initiative aims to prevent children from becoming soldiers in the first place, avoiding the damage to peace and stability, society, and the children themselves through our training, research and advocacy activities. As part of our work on prevention, we collaborate with our colleagues in the United Nations on many fronts, including with UNICEF and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to advance the protection of children from armed conflict around the world.

As we enter a new year, which Secretary-General Guterres has declared will be a “year for peace”, we look forwards to continuing and expanding our collaboration with the United Nations. At the Dallaire Initiative we will continue to improve and expand our delivery of training on preventing the use of child soldiers to security sector actors around the world, while conducting world-class research on children and armed conflict, including expanding our previous work on the importance of children to early warning for mass atrocities and conflict prevention. In the words of the new Secretary-General, “prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority. If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions.”

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

suicide-bomber-interaction-2-min

Child Suicide Bombers: A Tactical Innovation and a Moral Outrage

By: Dustin Johnson

One of the most disturbing uses of children in modern warfare is as suicide bombers. This practice has been seen in a number of countries around the world in recent years, particularly in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. Most recently, on January 4th, three girls presumably used by the Boko Haram terrorist group attempted to bomb a market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Madagali. As they approached a checkpoint, they were confronted by local security forces who then fired on the girls, sadly killing all three, but preventing what could have been a much worse tragedy.

Through the work that the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative has done on understanding the use of children as soldiers, we have illuminated some of the reasons why an armed group would choose to equip a child as a suicide bomber. The primary reason is that normally security sector actors are less suspicious of children, and therefore are less likely to thoroughly search them at a checkpoint or assume that their behaviour is suspicious. Armed groups can take advantage of this to move a suicide bomber into position with less chance of being caught. Should security sector actors discover that the child has a bomb, they may be less likely to immediately fire on them as they are a child.

One of the scenarios that we role-play in our training for security sector actors is on encountering a child suicide bomber. In such a situation, our training helps security sector actors to attempt to deescalate the situation and prevent the child from detonating their bomb, thereby both saving the child’s life, and providing valuable intelligence that can be gathered from examining a bomb, while ensuring that their utmost priority is protecting themselves and nearby civilians from harm.

Sometimes, through the actions of security sector actors and the unwillingness of a child to take their own life and those of others, such attacks are prevented and lives saved, such as the case last year of a 15-year-old boy in Iraq sent to attack the city of Kirkuk. He was successfully detained and disarmed by security forces, rather than being killed, after deciding he could not carry out the bombing his ISIS commanders had ordered him to.

Newsletter

Archives

Categories

SierraLeone_Education-min

Launching the Dallaire Initiative Education Project in Sierra Leone

By: Dustin Johnson

Last month, three members of our staff travelled to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, to launch our education project in the country. Working in partnership with a Sierra Leonean NGO, Pikin-to-Pikin Movement, we held a series of meetings and a two-day workshop to train local staff members and educators who will be implementing the project.

The goal of the project is to educate children, and the community at large, on child protection issues, so that children are better able to protect themselves and their peers. Children learn better when they are taught by their peers, and so this project uses the child-to-child approach: one group of children nominated by their peers are taught the material by adult educators, and they then conduct activities to pass the knowledge on to other children.

For the first phase, this curriculum will be delivered through three pilot schools in three districts of Sierra Leone: UMC primary in Bombali District; Saint Michael’s Primary in Moyamba District, and Sierra Leone Church Primary in Port Loko District.

The child protection curriculum for the project was developed by the Dallaire Initiative, the Pikin-to-Pikin Movement, and the UK-based Child-to-Child Trust. It focuses on the issues arising from the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s civil war: normalization of violence, bullying, disregard of human rights, and the possibility for renewed conflict and recruitment.

The workshop was held in a modest but well-situated hotel conference room overlooking Freetown’s gorgeous Lumley Beach. There were two groups of participants: Pikin-to-Pikin staff from each of the three districts, and educators from each of the pilot schools. Throughout the two days, we conducted a series of sessions with the Pikin-to-Pikin staff to discuss the use and implementation of the training materials, the timeline for project implementation, and the child protection challenges in their districts.

As my first work trip abroad for the Dallaire Initiative, this visit to Sierra Leone was a great and humbling learning experience for me. Doing this kind of development work requires a deep understanding of and appreciation for the context in which you are working, which can only be learned through collaboration and action with partners in-country.

Newsletter

Archives

Categories