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 part in conflicts. 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 abducted) by governmental forces, paramilitaries or rebels. This is often caused by poverty, discrimination or their desire to avenge for suffering inflicted on them or their families. Children are used as combatants, as cooks, messengers, sex slaves or may be forced to perform other inappropriate and high risk 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 (2002) It holds that the minimum age for the recruitment into armed forces is 18 years of age and 16 years of age as the minimum 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.
DCI has a long history of advocating for the protection and the rights of children in armed conflict or affected by conflicts in general (internal strife, political conflicts, etc.). Over the past 20 years DCI has been actively promoting the protection and rights of children in armed conflicts at the national, regional and international levels. Some of DCI’s main tools in doing so such include the Graça Machel report of 1996, the Study on Violence Against Children in 2006, the work of different Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, and the more recent Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015. DCI’s activities have been most visible, for example, in Palestine, Colombia, the Central African Republic, Yemen, and in the work related to Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. DCI is a founding member of this Working Group and was elected co-convener in 2017.
Children in conflict situations should enjoy full protection and realisation of their human rights in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols (particularly OP on children in Armed Conflict) and other relevant international standards. These tools are put in place to ensure that children are enabled to achieve their maximum potential as responsible members of society as well as future actors of change and peace during and post-conflict in their respective countries.
DCI worked closely with the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) on Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, concerning the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty and its chapter on children deprived of liberty in situations of armed conflict. Following Ms Virginia Gamba’s appointment in the spring of 2017, DCI-IS has continued this collaboration.
DCI Sections are continuously working on the issue of children and armed conflict and in post conflict situations, such as DCI-Colombia, DCI-Central African Republic, DCI-Yemen, DCI-Somalia, DCI-Liberia and DCI-Sierra Leone.
DCI-IS presented a statement on behalf of DCI-Yemen during the General Debate on Item 10 during the 36th HRC session. It also co-signed an open letter, together with partner NGOs, to support the establishment of an investigative body to examine human rights violations in Yemen. After several years of persistent advocacy these efforts gave some positive results during the 36th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in September 2017. The HRC adopted a resolution which requests the High Commissioner to establish a Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts with knowledge on human rights law in the context of Yemen. It has the mandate to monitor and report on the situation of Human Rights and carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights and other appropriate and applicable fields of international law committed by all parties to the conflict since September 2014. The Group of Eminent Experts presented its first report to the Council in September 2018 and its mandate, supported by DCI and the NGO community, has been renewed.