Chapter 3 – Early Warning
To support United Nations efforts to monitor, report, identify, and address early warning signs of the recruitment and use of child soldiers, recognizing that such acts can amount to war crimes and can be a precursor of other war crimes, including attacks on civilians and civilian objects, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Why is this principle important?
The ability to identify and act on early warning signs of the recruitment and use of child soldiers can enable important preventative action. If these warning signs can be identified early, more – and less costly – options may be available to Member States to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and to forestall conflict escalation. Indeed, early warning signs of the recruitment and use of child soldiers can be a precursor to other grave violations or war crimes, and can serve to signal emerging (or re-emerging) conflict more broadly.
“…Acknowledges that serious abuses and violations of human rights or violations of international humanitarian law, including against children, can be an early indication of a descent into conflict or escalation of conflict, as well as a consequence thereof.”Endnote 36
In the Vancouver Principles, the Principle of early warning is distinct from the Principles outlined in chapter 8 (Prevention), as well as in chapter 6 (Monitoring and Reporting). For the purposes of this implementation guidance, early warning involves identifying latent risk factors for the recruitment and use of child soldiers within a peacekeeping mission. Prevention involves direct actions to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers within a peacekeeping mission. Monitoring and reporting involves the collection of information on grave violations after they have occurred. While distinct, these Principles are inextricably linked and mutually reinforcing.
How can this principle be implemented?
Identify a list of risk factors regarding the recruitment and use of child soldiers, in consultation with child protection experts: At its core, early warning involves examining risk factors for the recruitment and use of child soldiers. These factors include behaviours, circumstances, or elements that can either create an environment conducive to the recruitment and use of child soldiers, or indicate the potential, probability, or risk of the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The risk factors are not all the same – some are structural in nature, while others pertain to more dynamic circumstances or events. Risk factors may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Weak or non-existent national child protection measures, legislation, and/or institutions;
- Demographic pressures, such as a “youth bulge” or a shortage of adults available for recruitment or conscription;
- Systematic discrimination against identifiable groups;
- Reliance on conscription, abduction, or other forms of forced recruitment by armed forces or armed groups;
- Significant numbers of internally displaced children, and/or children separated from their families;
- History or presence of armed forces or armed groups with a record of violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), including grave violations against children;
- Proliferation and availability of inexpensive light weapons;
- Promotion of youth engagement in political movements, violent activities, and/or armed forces or armed groups;
- Significant numbers of children without access to education, employment, and/or basic necessities; and,
- Armed forces or armed groups situated in close proximity to civilian population centres.
Not all risk factors need to be present in order to assess that there is a significant risk of the recruitment and use of child soldiers. That said, the more risk factors that are present, the greater the potential that the recruitment and use of child soldiers may occur. Risk factors are not ranked by importance, and they each need to be carefully assessed in the specific context at hand, sensitive to unique gender dynamics and in consultation with local and child protection experts, as appropriate.
Systematically gather information associated with early warning signs of the recruitment and use of child soldiers: Peacekeepers should be prepared to collect reliable information associated with early warning signs of the recruitment and use of child soldiers. When possible, information collected on these early warning signs should be disaggregated by age and gender. Peacekeepers should refer to the Force Commander’s or Police Commissioner’s Child Protection Directive for further guidance on identifying and reporting early warning signs.
Report early warning signs of the recruitment and use of child soldiers to appropriate mission authorities in a timely fashion: Peacekeepers should report any identified early warning signs to the relevant Child Protection Focal Point (CPFP), as well as to the peacekeeper’s national chain of command.Endnote 37 By reporting early warning signs to appropriate mission authorities, peacekeepers can inform decision-making, planning, and ultimately appropriate preventative action. Member States could also consider communicating information regarding early warning signs directly to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG/CAAC), who acts as the focal point on children and armed conflict (CAAC) in the UN Secretariat. If there is any doubt as to whether information should be reported, the default should be to report.
Examples and resources
“JSP 1325: Human Security in Military Operations”: Published by the United Kingdom’s (UK) Ministry of Defence, this two-part document directs the UK Armed Forces to implement UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and follow-on UNSCRs related to women, peace and security, while also addressing broader considerations related to the protection of civilians, including children and armed conflict, and human trafficking. Part two of JSP 1325 specifically addresses the topic of “Early Warnings and Indicators,” and offers an extensive list of early warning indicators relevant to human rights violations.Endnote 38
To implement this principle, Member States should undertake the following:
- Identify a list of risk factors regarding the recruitment and use of child soldiers, in consultation with child protection experts.
- Systematically gather information associated with early warning signs of the recruitment and use of child soldiers, disaggregated by age and gender when possible.
- Report early warning signs of the recruitment and use of child soldiers to appropriate mission authorities in a timely fashion.
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