Chapter 8 – Prevention
To act effectively in response to credible information, and where authorized by the mission mandate and our rules of engagement, to protect children at risk of recruitment or use as child soldiers and other grave violations.
Why is this principle important?
Preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers is a defining aspect of the Vancouver Principles. Effective preparation of peacekeeping personnel and peacekeeping operations – through all of the elements articulated in the Vancouver Principles – provides for comprehensive prevention. If Member States effectively educate, train, direct, support, and equip their personnel to address the challenges posed by child soldiers, then the strategic and tactical advantage offered by the use of child soldiers can be reduced, and the cycle of child recruitment can be broken.
Within this overarching context, this principle focuses on specific in-mission actions to impede the recruitment and use of child soldiers. To recall, UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2427 (2018) stresses “the need to swiftly address…all recruitment methods utilized by non-state armed groups targeting children and encourages Member States to exchange good practices to this effect.”Endnote 83 The impetus for preventative action in-mission is clear: to protect children at risk of exploitation and abuse (as per the standards and obligations set out in chapter 7 (Protection and Care)); to protect deployed personnel; to support the UN mission mandate and objectives; and to help break the cycle of conflict. Preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers should be considered part of the core business of UN peacekeeping operations.
How can this principle be implemented?
Identify the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers as important to child protection, to mission effectiveness, and to broader conflict prevention in relevant national policies, doctrine, and directives: Flowing from the recommendation in chapter 1 (Mandates) that Member States support the inclusion of specific provisions on the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations, the importance of prevention should be further reflected in relevant national guidance documents – including in national policies, doctrine, and directives. By identifying the importance of prevention at the strategic level, national requirements to support specific preventative action can then be further defined in national planning efforts and relevant training and education activities.
Ensure peacekeepers are briefed by appropriate child protection actors on the context-specific pathways to the recruitment of child soldiers, with special attention to gender dynamics: To equip peacekeepers to take effective preventative action in a UN peacekeeping operation, in accordance with the mission mandate, peacekeepers need to understand the pathways to child recruitment. Children are recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups for a variety of reasons, and the motivating factors for children (and/or their families or communities) are complex, multi-faceted, and often gender-specific. Member States should, therefore, ensure that national contingents are well-informed by the relevant child protection actors, including the Child Protection Advisors (CPAs), on the particular recruitment dynamics at hand.
The pathways to recruitment can – in part – be understood by identifying “push” and “pull” factors that motivate children to engage with armed forces or armed groups. Push factors may include discrimination, abuse, or cultural pressures, while pull factors may include the provision of food, security, or other basic needs.
Recruitment can also be understood as occurring along a spectrum of coercion – from the forced abduction of children, to the alluring offer of a new identity. Notably, armed forces and armed groups, in addition to targeting children directly, also work to increase community acceptance of child recruitment through political and/or ideological mobilization, bribery, and intimidation.
Recruitment is not an isolated action, but rather a continuous process that includes the ongoing manipulation of children through persistent training and indoctrination. Recruitment pathways can be different for girls and boys.
Identify mission-specific tasks that peacekeepers can perform to impede the recruitment and use of child soldiers, in accordance with UN and national mission mandates and in consultation with the CPAs: The scope of potential prevention activities will – first and foremost – be dependent upon the mission mandate and authorized mission tasks. Within that context, prevention activities can vary depending on the specific recruiting dynamics present in a conflict. Mission activities targeted at prevention should be guided by an understanding of the local pathways to recruitment, and should be coordinated with the CPAs and Child Protection Focal Points (CPFPs).
- Limit the capacity of armed forces and armed groups to recruit and use child soldiers: The ability of an armed force of armed group to recruit and use child soldiers is sustained through financial and logistical resources, power or influence, freedom of movement, training camps, security, and recruiting personnel. Plans to impede a recruitment network, therefore, require a multi-faceted approach that can address these various assets.
- Monitor and protect areas of known or suspected recruitment, particularly during times of heightened risk: Dissuasive security patrols can be undertaken in high-risk areas such as playgrounds, schools, sports fields, water collection points, orphanages, as well as displaced persons and refugee camps. In addition, peacekeepers can increase presence patrols at specific high-risk times that are known to be conducive to recruiting. However, caution is needed to ensure that an enhanced peacekeeper presence does not inadvertently expose children to additional risk of attack, for example, by unintentionally turning that location into a military objective subject to attack. Advice should be sought from the CPAs, and further guidance on protecting schools is offered in the Safe Schools Declaration (2015) as well as the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict (2014).Endnote 84
- Support community engagement and other outreach efforts: Through community engagement efforts, peacekeepers can help identify local needs and/or concerns that may serve as underlying motivators for the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Peacekeepers may also be in a position to support outreach directly with armed forces and armed groups. To recall, not all children are physically forced into recruitment and there are a wide variety of factors that can motivate the recruitment of children. Outreach efforts can provide valuable information regarding the nature of child recruitment and the tactics being employed, and thereby inform a more comprehensive approach to prevention. The lead role of CPAs in undertaking outreach on child protection, in concert with other child protection actors, should be respected.
Examples and resources
Toolkit for implementing the Safe Schools Guidelines: Jointly produced by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, this toolkit provides direction on how militaries can implement the Safe Schools Guidelines. In particular, it provides materials to guide the Professional Military Education (PME) of military personnel, as well as both the planning and execution of military operations.Endnote 85
The Guiding Principles for the Domestic Implementation of a Comprehensive System of Protection for Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups: This free and publicly available toolkit was developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to support domestic-level legal and institutional reform for the protection of child soldiers. Chapters 4 and 5 of ICRC’s guiding principles document specifically address the topic of prevention.Endnote 86
To implement this principle, Member States should undertake the following:
- Identify the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers as important to child protection, to mission effectiveness, and to broader conflict prevention in relevant national policies, doctrine, and directives.
- Ensure peacekeepers are briefed by appropriate child protection actors on the context-specific pathways to the recruitment of child soldiers, with special attention to gender dynamics.
- Identify mission-specific tasks that peacekeepers can perform to impede the recruitment and use of child soldiers, in accordance with UN and national mission mandates and in consultation with the Child Protection Advisors (CPAs). These activities may include:
- Limiting the capacity of armed forces and armed groups to recruit and use child soldiers;
- Monitoring and protecting areas of known or suspected recruitment, particularly during times of heightened risk; and,
- Supporting community engagement and other outreach efforts.
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