Children in Conflicts
States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities. States Parties shall ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 18 years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces. States Parties shall raise the minimum age for the voluntary recruitment of persons into their national armed forces […] (art. 1, 2, 3 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict)
Armed conflicts still affect a great number of children and pose serious threats to their survival, development and life opportunities.
In some countries children of any age and sex are recruited (either as volunteers or by abduction) by governmental forces, paramilitaries or rebels. This is often caused by poverty, discrimination or their will to avenge for suffering inflicted on them or their families. Children are used as combatants, cooks, messengers, sexual slaves or may perform other tasks.
The issues related to the recruitment of these children are set in various international instruments such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, entered into force in 2002, which ruled 18 the minimum age for recruitment into armed groups or by governments, and 16 the age for volunteer participation. In addition, the recruitment of children under the age of 15 into armed forces or armed groups is considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court.
Concerning the role of children associated with armed organisations during hostilities, there is no clear idea on how this should be handled. Many of them actively participate in war. They are sometimes manipulated by adults who exploit them or they make a deliberate choice to take part in armed conflict. These children are considered victims of the war and must be protected and allowed to benefit from reintegration procedures. At the same time, they committed offences and must therefore be dealt with by a justice system that functions well and applies the juvenile justice standards as set in International law, and where their specific situation will be kept in mind during every stage of the trial.
There are several DCI national sections where conflicts are ongoing and where children are paying the highest price, being directly or indirectly affected by the war. For this reason, DCI has been actively lobbying and advocating to promote violence prevention strategies, help rebuild the lives of those already affected and protect vulnerable children.
Very recently DCI has been among the founders of the Focus Group on Children and Armed Conflicts of the Working group on Children and Violence. The focus group gained momentum swiftly creating a unique coordination hub within Geneva based organisations and also on a global level, in particular with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on children affected by armed conflict in New York.