Launched on 15 November 2017, the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers (known as the Vancouver Principles) are a set of political commitments aimed at preventing and addressing the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups during United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations. By endorsing the Vancouver Principles, Member States acknowledge the unique and far-reaching challenges posed by child soldiers, and commit to prioritizing the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the context of UN peacekeeping operations and to helping ensure that all peacekeepers – military, police, and civilian – are prepared and directed to take appropriate action.Endnote 1 The Vancouver Principles are motivated by the conviction that preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers is not a peripheral issue to UN peacekeeping, but rather, is critical to achieving overall mission success and to setting the conditions for lasting peace and security.

The Vancouver Principles contain 17 distinct commitments that, taken together, aim to empower Member States to undertake early, effective, and coordinated action to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Principle 17 calls for the development of further operational guidance to support the transformation of these high-level political commitments into concrete actions by Member States. This document is a contribution to the fulfillment of that Principle. This guidance is not binding, but is meant to serve as a practical resource to support Member States as they develop their own national implementation plans.

Understanding the challenge

Adopted by the UN Security Council in 1999, UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1261 was the first resolution on children and armed conflict (CAAC). The resolution firmly placed the issue of children affected by war on the Council’s agenda, and strongly condemned the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict. It also called for full and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all children affected by armed conflict. Subsequently, in a 2005 report to the UN Security Council, the then UN Secretary-General formally identified the “six grave violations” against children during armed conflict.Endnote 2

These violations include:

  1. Killing or maiming of children;
  2. Recruiting or using child soldiers;
  3. Attacks against schools or hospitals;
  4. Rape or other grave sexual violence against children;
  5. Abduction of children; and,
  6. Denial of humanitarian access for children.

These violations can amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. Tragically, such violations against children not only persist, but also continue to increase at an alarming rate.Endnote 3

In particular, children continue to be recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups by over 50 non-state actors and 7 government security forces around the world.Endnote 4 In fact, tens of thousands of children – both girls and boys – are used by armed forces and armed groups in a variety of roles, including as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, and/or for sexual purposes.Endnote 5

In 2016, the UN estimated that as many as 40% of child soldiers are girls.Endnote 6 Both girls and boys are employed in a variety of roles: in active combat, in support roles, and/or for sexual purposes.

Child soldiers are often exposed to horrific violence: they are both witnesses to and perpetrators of violence, while themselves being abused, exploited, injured, or even killed. Short of death, these children can suffer severe physical, psychological, and emotional injuries. They can be torn from family and friends, barred from educational and other development opportunities, stigmatized or rejected by their community and peers, and denied their fundamental needs and basic human rights.Endnote 7 Furthermore, the complex dynamics of child recruitment are often gender- and context-specific.

Beyond the enduring, tragic, and even fatal consequences for children, the recruitment and use of child soldiers also has severe consequences for the nature of conflict itself, as well as for the peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping operations. In fact, when child soldiers are present, conflicts are typically more difficult to resolve.Endnote 8

For peacekeepers, the presence of children in armed forces and armed groups presents immediate and complex tactical and operational challenges. The psychological effects of encountering child soldiers can be severe, multi-faceted, and protracted, affecting peacekeepers long after they have returned home from their deployment.

Existing law and political guidance

Over the last several decades, international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) have evolved to better protect children from recruitment and use by armed forces and armed groups. These legal instruments include, but are not limited to, the Geneva Conventions (1949), Additional Protocols I and II, the Geneva Conventions (1977), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999), and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000). Beyond these international instruments, regional human rights instruments have also evolved, including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children (1990) and the Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam (2005).

These aforementioned laws and instruments have been buttressed by a series of UNSCRs that underscore child protection as a priority for international peace and security. The protection of children has also been included in the mandates of several peacekeeping operations since 2001.Endnote 9

UN Security Council resolutions regarding the protection of children affected by armed conflict include the following:

  • UNSCR 1261, The Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/1261 (30 August 1999);
  • UNSCR 1314, The Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/1314 (11 August 2000);
  • UNSCR 1379, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/1379 (20 November 2001);
  • UNSCR 1460, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/1460 (30 January 2003);
  • UNSCR 1539, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/1539 (22 April 2004);
  • UNSCR 1612, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/1612 (26 July 2005);
  • UNSCR 1882, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/1882 (4 August 2009);
  • UNSCR 1998, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/1998 (12 July 2011);
  • UNSCR 2068, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/2068 (19 September 2012);
  • UNSCR 2143, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/2143 (7 March 2014);
  • UNSCR 2151, The Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Security Sector Reform: Challenges and Opportunities, S/RES/2151 (28 April 2014);
  • UNSCR 2225, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/2225 (18 June 2015); and,
  • UNSCR 2427, Children and Armed Conflict, S/RES/2427 (9 July 2018).

In recent years, a series of political initiatives have called further attention to the persistent abuse of children in situations of armed conflict, with the aim of encouraging stronger collective efforts to protect children. In particular, the Paris Commitments and associated Paris Principles (2007), which built upon the Cape Town Principles (1997),Endnote 10 lay out detailed guidelines for protecting children from recruitment and use by armed forces and armed groups, and for providing assistance to those already involved with armed forces and armed groups.Endnote 11 The Safe Schools Declaration (2015) calls on states to protect schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.Endnote 12 The Kigali Principles (2015) establishes a set of commitments on the protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations.Endnote 13 Additionally, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals recognize the dignity of children and their right to live free from violence and fear as a distinct priority in the international development agenda.Endnote 14

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals encourage endorsing States to:

  • 8.7 “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”Endnote 15

  • 16.2 “End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.”Endnote 16

The 2017 Vancouver Principles build upon this strong foundation of existing law and political guidance, while providing a unique and complementary contribution to the international framework. The Vancouver Principles are aimed at Member States, and focus on the challenges posed by child soldiers in the context of UN peacekeeping operations and the specific role of UN peacekeepers. Moreover, they take a full-spectrum approach to combatting the recruitment and use of children by highlighting the importance of preventative and comprehensive action – from the design of the initial UN Security Council mandate, to mission planning for peacekeeping operations, through to the negotiation of peace processes. Preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers is a defining aspect of the Vancouver Principles.

Scope and intent of this implementation guidance

This implementation guidance is intended to be a strategic-level document. It aims to help Member States translate the Vancouver Principles into the national-level guidance, plans, and capabilities required to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the context of UN peacekeeping operations. In that regard, the guidance is meant to serve as a practical resource for the relevant national military, police, and civilian organizations that are engaged in national preparations for UN peacekeeping operations. It is intended to help Member States identify the appropriate national authorities and sufficient resources to implement the Vancouver Principles.Endnote 17

This implementation guidance addresses each Vancouver Principle individually, first by articulating the importance of the Principle and then by presenting some practical suggestions for how that Principle can be implemented. Wherever possible, concrete examples are provided along with useful references to available and authoritative resources. Each chapter ends with a short checklist for easy reference. While each Principle stands as a distinct chapter, the Principles are intricately intertwined and mutually-reinforcing; they should be understood as a comprehensive whole.

This document was developed to ensure due consideration of the implementation of the Vancouver Principles from a gender perspective and to support the inclusion of gender-sensitive recommendations.

The terminology employed in this document is consistent with usage in the Vancouver Principles. Acknowledging the complexities inherent in the use of the term “child soldier,” in particular, the definition below should provide clarity for the purposes of this guidance. Definitions of “peacekeepers” and “peacekeeping operations” are also provided on the next page; additional terms are defined in the glossary.

Child soldier: This term is used as a shorthand and is interpreted broadly, in accordance with the definition found in the Paris Principles. A child soldier (or 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, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.”Endnote 18

Peacekeepers: This term encompasses all personnel engaged in UN peacekeeping operations, be they military, police, or civilian.

Peacekeeping operations: This term is used in accordance with the definition provided in the UN’s Capstone Doctrine: “Peacekeeping is a technique designed to preserve the peace, however fragile, where fighting has been halted, and to assist in implementing agreements achieved by the peacemakers. Over the years, peacekeeping has evolved from a primarily military model of observing cease-fires and the separation of forces after inter-state wars, to incorporate a complex model of many elements – military, police, and civilian – working together to help lay the foundations for sustainable peace.”Endnote 19

This implementation guidance is meant to serve as a starting point for ongoing and active conversations on how to operationalize the Vancouver Principles and prioritize the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers in UN peacekeeping operations. This is intended to be a living document.

This document will remain free and publicly accessible for endorsing Member States, for Member States considering endorsement, and for any other actors looking for further guidance on this issue.

Page details

Date modified: