Don’t Use Children to Further Violence or Division

by Dr. Shelly Whitman

Today there are an estimated 420 million children and youth who live in conflict-affected countries, many of whom need urgent protection Save the Children, 2019). This is heightened by the changing nature of war. In the space of three decades, the number of children living in conflict zones at risk of being recruited and used in conflict has tripled – from 99 million children in 1990 (under 5% of children) to 337 million children in 2020 (more than 14%) (Save the Children, 2021, p. 4). While children are often viewed as innocent, passive victims of war, it must be recognized that children undertake roles during armed conflict that range from being frontline combatants, to sex slaves, human shields, detainees, spies, porters, cooks, and messengers (Brocklehurst, 2006).

If in the past children were involved in conflict despite their age, they are now being recruited because of their age (Conradi and Whitman, 2014). The use of children in war is not a new phenomenon. Since the end of the Cold War, it has been well-documented that the recruitment and use of children as soldiers represents a defining aspect of most modern conflicts (Achvarina and Reich, 2006). What is new is the strategic recruitment and use of children as a “tactical innovation” in war (Tynes, 2019). Tragically, there are several tactical and strategic incentives for armed forces and groups to recruit and use children and youth: they are susceptible to manipulation, able to pass through communities undetected, low cost, and able to fill the ranks of forces quickly. In addition, opposing forces often hesitate to react, under react or overreact, to encountering children who are used as soldiers, which in turn provides a tactical advantage to the opposing forces (Baillie Abidi and Whitman 2020, p. 35).

To progressively end the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, the world must focus on effective prevention (Baillie Abidi and Whitman, 2020, p.29).


Save the Children reported that in 2020, among the parties to conflict who recruit and use children, 22 are governments and 110 are non-state actors (Save the Children, 2020, p.6), Preventing violence in the context of children and armed conflict, and particularly in relation to children recruited and used as soldiers, requires explicit attention during times of peace and conflict (ICRC, 2020). Yet the fact remains that despite time, resources and well-meaning efforts by many non-governmental organizations and UN agencies, most efforts are focused on interventions to respond after conflict has begun. Trends have found that the number of state armed actors recruiting children to armed conflict over the last decade is stable at around 20, but the number of non-state actors has almost tripled, from 38 in 2010 to 110 in 2020 (Save the Children, op cit, p.6). The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2427 (2018) states that conflict prevention strategies must “address the root causes of armed conflict in a comprehensive manner in order to enhance the protection of children on a long-term basis.”  

There is a need for a transformational shift to move from good intentions to preventative action (WHO (World Health Organization), 2014). In this context, the Child Protection Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Action (2019), outlines that we need to think of preventative and responsive actions. Preventative actions are primarily designed to prevent harm to children, while responsive actions address the needs of children who have already been harmed (Alliance for Child Protection, 2019). While many community-based, state-driven, and internationally supported programs have preventative effects, explicit and coordinated programming on conflict prevention, and particularly recruitment prevention, is lacking (Whitman, 2018).

Our approaches need to combine preventative and responsive actions that can be targeted to address this grave vilation. However, such approaches are missing from the international peace and security agenda. Preventing violence against children in the context of armed conflict requires a dual lens that is focused on prioritizing the protection of children’s rights, as well as understanding the significant operational impacts associated with the use of children in armed violence.

But it is February 2022, and when I reference the use of children in armed violence, I want us all to hear a few sobering thoughts.

We live in a time when technology has the power to make huge changes for good, yet we have social media giants who design these platforms with the intention of harming children in exchange for profit.

We see families divided over things such as vaccine mandates and neighbours who no longer talk to each other because of their political leanings for candidate A or B.

We have major powers sitting in the chambers of the UN Security Council who know their actions will never be punished because might triumphs over right every time.

We have organizations that don’t work together because our mandates don’t match, or we are competing for funds.

What the hell are we teaching our children about peace?

Today, as I write, we are witnessing the impacts of conflict on children’s mindsets, their belief systems and their perceptions of the “other”.  We have sowed far too many seeds of division. If we fail to interrupt this pattern we will never see a world that attains sustainable peace and security. We will instead continue to have desires to rectify the wrongs of the past, to triumph individual freedoms and wealth over a greater common good. And the human rights that we have spent decades working to define, put into legislation and hold others accountable for, will mean nothing.

While the trends I have highlighted are alarming – given the significant and long-standing impacts of recruitment and use on children, their families, communities and the security sector actors responsible for their protection – there is hope. Preventing the recruitment and use of children is central to transforming and ending multi-generational cycles of violence.

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Red Hand Day 2021

On this International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, otherwise known as Red Hand Day, we implore everyone to take a moment to reflect on the plight of children in conflict and push for global leaders to put preventative solutions into action to end this major human rights violation.

Dr. Shelly Whitman and General Dallaire have written a powerful op-ed piece in iPolitics.  In this piece, the discussion acknowledges the need for prevention, before abuse ever takes place.

Red Hand Day: The international day against the use of child soldiers


The Slaight Family Foundation announces $15M Global Initiative for Women and Girls

TORONTO (MARCH 3, 2020) – To mark International Women’s Day, The Slaight Family Foundation is donating $15 million to 15 international organizations working to improve human rights and opportunities for women and girls.

The recipient organizations – working mainly in impoverished, fragile or conflict-affected areas – each focus on different issues facing women and girls, including human rights abuses, child marriages, sex trafficking, legal support, HIV and AIDS and education.

“The aim of this gift is to improve conditions for women and girls living in difficult circumstances, who represent some of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” said Gary Slaight of The Slaight Family Foundation. “The projects we are funding will leverage the expertise of these vital organizations to protect women and girls in the most fragile countries from direct harm, rebuild the lives of those who have been unjustly affected by conflict, deprivation and disease and give them the tools and support they need to survive and thrive.”

“This investment in international NGOs is unprecedented and the projects being supported will directly assist more than one million women and girls in some of the world’s most fragile regions,” said Dr. Samantha Nutt, President of War Child Canada. “It’s such an important time to be highlighting this issue. For The Slaight Family Foundation to recognize the threats faced by women and girls, and acknowledge that their concerns matter with such an historic gift, is a profound message to send. On behalf of the entire group we extend our sincerest gratitude to The Slaight Family Foundation for their incredible support of our collective work.”

Since 2013, The Slaight Family Foundation has funded several strategic initiatives to multiple organizations. These initiatives started with gifts to five Toronto hospitals to support priority healthcare issues, followed by programs to address global humanitarianism, healthy development of children and youth across Canada, support for Indigenous issues and, last year, a seniors’ initiative to help keep seniors in their homes and communities, including the Allan Slaight Seniors’ Fund at the United Way Greater Toronto.

Project Information

AIDS-Free World

Sub-Saharan African countries with UN peacekeeping missions and high rates of HIV in women

Develop and roll out a smartphone app to tap young women’s unique knowledge of and solutions to living under the threat of sexual violence. Women in remote areas who answer open-ended, recorded questions orally, in private, as easily as leaving a voicemail message, will be transformed from victims with lived experiences to experts helping to end sexual violence against women.

Canadian Feed the Children


Creation of a new ‘Livelihood & Gender Equality Fund’ championing the human rights of girls and women in Ethiopia. We will focus on reducing the forced migration of girls and women by helping them finish their education and improve future prospects including starting new, sustainable businesses through an agribusiness hub to develop female entrepreneurship. The initiative includes a sexual and reproductive health and rights campaign, strengthening community police, legal and healthcare systems, and a new research study on child migration.

Canadian Red Cross

South Sudan/Central Africa Republic

The Canadian Red Cross is launching an innovative program that brings health solutions directly into crisis and conflict areas, reaching women and girls who are cut off from health facilities due to violence. Essential health care and supplies delivered by local Red Cross responders will increase safe pregnancies, improve nutrition, and provide access to clean water and lifesaving treatments for disease.

CARE Canada


Innovate and improve menstrual hygiene management for school-age girls with female genital mutilation – develop and test new solutions with established women and girls’ groups, train women to produce hygiene products locally, improve school sanitation facilities and increase community awareness.

Crossroads International


The program will increase access to gender-responsive heath services and launch a youth-led awareness campaign for sexual and reproductive health rights among adolescent girls and boys at risk of child trafficking, forced prostitution, child labour and sexual violence in Kedougou, Senegal.

Human Rights Watch

Middle East/N Africa

End discrimination of women and girls by documenting the abuses of male guardianship system in the Middle East and North Africa. Year 1 will focus on documenting male guardianship in Qatar; how lack of domestic violence legislation and discriminatory laws leaves women exposed to domestic violence in Kuwait; and the start of mapping how and where male guardianship exists in the region.

Partners In Health Canada

Malawi & Sierra Leone

Improved access to sexual and reproductive health services especially for adolescents, strengthened care for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and increased availability of high-quality obstetric care. Activities include health worker training, resourcing and delivery of clinical care, educational initiatives for young people, and community-based work to raise awareness about women’s and girls’ rights and promote health seeking behaviour.

Right To Play


Transform the lives of more than 50,000 girls across Mozambique through a gender-responsive education program that removes barriers to access, builds teacher capacity, and positively impacts national programs and policies. The result will be higher literacy rates, lower drop-out rates, and a generation of girls who are better supported to succeed.

Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative
Helping reduce child soldier recruitment and conflict-based sexual violence through capacity building of national military and police forces, with a focus on female force members; enhance the Dallaire Initiative’s cadre of female international trainers and global champions; raise awareness amongst the global community on the critical role of women in preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Save the Children

Sierra Leone

Improve knowledge and skills of adolescent girls and boys to be aware of and exercise their rights around sexual and reproductive health and gender equality, to be able to make their own informed decisions related to marriage and pregnancy. This action will transform harmful practices and attitudes that reinforce gender inequalities and gender-based violence and strengthen the institutional and policy environment to prevent child early and forced marriage.

Stephen Lewis Foundation

Sub-Saharan Africa

Expand holistic programmes that address gender inequalities to improve access to HIV prevention services, and support treatment adherence for women and girls living with HIV. Expand the global grandmothers movement through Grandmother Gatherings. Empower grandmothers caring for children orphaned by AIDS to claim their human rights and lead their communities, through peer support, healthcare, skills training, economic empowerment and advocacy.



In Somalia, only 30 per cent of children attend primary school with girls accounting for less than half of the total enrollment. This project will focus on girls and children with disabilities to improve their access to early childhood education (ECE) services. Community based and alternative ECE programs will be established in rural areas and provide appropriate curriculum that caters to the children’s different needs. It will also include education for parents and communities so that they can better support their children’s education.

War Child


Empower women and girls to seek justice and tackle impunity within their communities by providing critical legal support for those affected by or at risk of gender-based violence; through targeted educational programming, ensure that girls can uphold their rights, have greater self-determination, and move out of poverty over the long-term.

WE Charity

Sierra Leone (Kono District)

Focus on advancing the rights of vulnerable women and girls by empowering them with the tools, support and skills to bring an end to inter-generational cycles of poverty and injustice. The three-part program will implement training to address human rights abuses and threats affecting them. Part one will deliver community-wide training to create greater awareness about women’s rights and human rights abuses. Part two will provide vulnerable women and girls education on their rights, referral support and life skills to increase their opportunities. Part three will offer the highest-risk women and girls vocational training and accelerated learning opportunities.

World Vision


Implement the DREAM program – Dedicated to Reducing Early Marriage in Mali – to address the root cause of child marriage; will include sexual and reproductive health services, education and economic livelihood training; upgrading schools with girls washrooms, training parents, teachers, and faith leaders on the consequences of child marriage; train mothers and girls in financial literacy, life skills and income generating activities to increase household income.

For more information:

Jeri Brown, Media Profile

[email protected]

Office: 416-342-1834 Mobile: 416-455-7188

The Dallaire Initiative Marks The Day Against The Use Of Child Soldiers

HALIFAX, NS – On February 10th, The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative (Dallaire Initiative), in partnership with Dalhousie University’s Open Dialogue Series, is hosting a public discourse to mark the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.  

The discussion will be moderated by award-winning CBC journalist, Nahlah Ayed, and feature two speakers who experienced and understand the impacts of war on children, Omar Khadr and celebrated author and human rights activist Ishmael Beah. The event will also feature the organization’s Founder, LGen the Hon. Roméo Dallaire (ret’d) and Executive Director, Dr. Shelly Whitman.  

The event aims to nurture improved understanding of how children around the world are recruited and used by adults into conflict and violence. By examining the issue from multiple perspectives, the Dallaire Initiative hopes to provide deep and meaningful insights into how children are vulnerable to being recruited and used in violence, that takes many different forms, but ultimately have the same long-term and psycho-social impacts on the children and their communities.  

“As the global organization at the forefront of preventing children from being recruited and used in conflict, we have an obligation to foster public dialogue on this issue, with the aim to  break cycles of endemic violence around the world, and even here in Canada,” says Dr. Whitman.  “We understand this is a highly complex issue, but one that deserves serious attention if we are to achieve peace and security. The Dallaire Initiative is proud to be able to continue to convene timely and critical discussions that bring together diverse groups here at our institutional home in Halifax – Dalhousie University.”

The discussion is part of Dalhousie University’s Open Dialogue series which brings the community together for thought-provoking conversations focused on timely and relevant topics. The series also supports the university’s vital role in sparking dialogue around important issues.  

The event will also mark the Dallaire Initiative’s 10th anniversary at Dalhousie University. It will be hosted at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium and recorded for possible use in an episode of CBC Ideas.

Event Details

What: The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative in partnership with Dalhousie University’s Open Dialogue Series, public discourse with Omar Khadr, Ishmael Beah, and LGen the Hon. Roméo Dallaire 

When: Monday, February 10, 2020. Registration starts at 5:30, doors open at 6, event 7-9 

Where: Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Dalhousie Arts Centre6101 University Ave, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2 

Note: For security reasons, all coats will need to be checked and no large bags will be allowed into the auditorium.

Media Advisory 

We anticipate a high level of media interest in this event. There will be limited space for media. 

All media-related inquiries in advance of this event will be solely handled by the Executive Director of the Dallaire Initiative, Dr. Shelly Whitman. Omar Khadr will not be speaking to the media.  

  • Media organizations wishing to attend the event must apply for accreditation by emailing: [email protected] with their name and media outlet.  
  • If accepted, media must present media and personal identification upon arrival to the media reception desk. 
  • There will be an area for media reserved in the Rebecca Cohn and media must remain in this area during the event. 
  • Photography, video and audio recordings of the event are not permitted.  

Media contact 

Aimee White, Chief of Staff

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative


[email protected]

About the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

Founded by retired Lieutenant-General and celebrated humanitarian Roméo Dallaire, The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative is a global partnership committed to ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide, through ground-breaking research, advocacy, and security-sector training.