Security personnel and policymakers in Africa have emphasised the urgency for countries to commit to fighting the recruitment and use of children as soldiers in armed conflicts through endorsement and full implementation of the Vancouver principles. ALSO READ: Rwanda, Dallaire Institute recommit to end use of child soldiers in Africa Representatives of the African Union, the United Nations, policymakers from across Africa, security personnel, and members of civil society gathered together in a workshop on Monday, February 27 to forge strategies and actionable plans on how to implement the Vancouver Principles on peacekeeping and prevention of the recruitment and use of children as soldiers in armed conflicts. ALSO READ: New agreement to boost efforts to prevent use of children in armed conflicts This is a gathering that precedes Dallaire institute commemoration celebrations of the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers (also known as “Red Hand Day”) to draw attention to the issue of child soldiers around the world. Maj. Gen Albert Murasira, Minister of Defence, said that despite Africa’s and global engagement towards the protection of children affected by armed conflicts and the progress achieved to strengthen the existing legal frameworks, grave violations of children’s rights continue to be abused in most African countries affected by conflicts. “Today, vulnerabilities of children extend beyond the traditional battlefields as a result of transnational criminal networks that recruit children for different purposes,” he cited. Every year, tens of thousands of children, both girls and boys are used by armed forces and armed groups in a variety of roles such as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers and spies, and for sexual purposes. As of 2021, it was estimated that over 420 million children were directly or indirectly affected by armed conflicts globally and close to 140 million are in Africa. However, these numbers are not specific because a bigger share of data are with armed groups. ALSO READ: Rwanda to serve as Africa hub to promote children rights through the security sector agenda Rwanda is a champion of the Vancouver Principles –a set of political commitments focused on child protection in peacekeeping, including all stages of a conflict cycle –to which 105 countries have endorsed globally, however only 16 African countries have endorsed the Vancouver principles which creates a constraint to achieving the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of children on the continent. The instrument comprises of 17 principles that focus on preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed forces and armed groups. Murasira said that more than 8000 Rwandan troops have been trained on the protection of children and ways of implementing the principles but also reducing the likelihood of moral injuries suffered by military forces seeing children used in the battlefield. “I urge all of us to adopt a mindset that not only focuses on challenges posed in the protection of children’s rights but one that keeps on sharing experiences and best practices for information exchange and rapid response to prevention.” Maj. Gen Ferdinand Safari, Director of Dallaire Institute’s African Centre of Excellence for Children, Peace and Security, said that the implementation of Vancouver principles on protecting children requires political commitment. “There are many countries that talk about these principles but lack political will. We are trying to change that mindset through such workshops to bring everyone on board,” he added. Rwanda is the host country of this Centre of Excellence that seeks to facilitate all continental programmes focusing on child protection and promoting the rights of children through the peace and security agendas. Robert Nanima, a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Special Rapporteur on Children Affected by Armed Conflict, said there has been a lot of training with various defence forces on how to inculcate aspects of re-integration and support of children in peace operations. According to him, it is important to identify steps taken towards improving the welfare of children affected by conflicts. On the other hand, Chief Inspector of Police, Alphonsine Murekatete, the Director of Peace Support Operations at Rwanda National Police (RNP) said that peacekeepers should have vast knowledge and skills on the interaction and responding to the issues affecting children in situations of conflicts. The Dallaire Institute was founded by Lt. General (retired) Roméo Dallaire, a humanitarian, retired Canadian senator and former Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda between 1993 and 1994.