On such a remarkable international day of peace, let us all take a moment to reflect on the lives of a child soldier and our individual responsibilities to put to an end to their recruitment and use.
Remember to see a child first as a child before considering them to be a child solider. Children deserve the best of their childhood as children not critical agents of wars. Therefore, let us all strive to protect children for peace.
Today, the world is experiencing conflict more than ever before. While war is devastating, Covid-19, a health hazard presents negative and long-term impact on the lives of all children globally, but the effects stands out to be even worse for those children living in conflict affected countries.
Conflict around the globe especially Africa has affected children adversely, including their exposure to the six grave violations including being recruited and used as child soldiers, thus creating a negative environment for children.
According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), there have been an estimated 630 state-based and nonstate armed conflicts in Africa between 1990 and 2015. Despite the nature of war, more lives of children are being lost and yet we are reminded that societies can never thrive or become resilient if they do not give children an opportunity to grow happily and actualize their full potential.
Accurate data on child soldiers remains difficult to collect given the nature and circumstances under which child soldiers are recruited and use. However, the United Nations Children and Armed Conflict report of the Secretary General (CAAC) provides numbers on verified cases of grave violations against children.
According to the 2020 CAAC report, 25,000 cases of grave violations were committed in nineteen situations. Among those some 7,747 children both boys and girls as young as six were recruited and used as child soldiers.
It is reported that 90 percent of these cases are committed by non-state actors. While the United Nations mandate on the prevention of the malpractice of the recruitment and use of child soldiers has increased since 2014, children are still recruited and used as child soldiers. It is also reported that every child who is recruited is not reintegrated which poses a serious threat to the society and the future of the child.
It is of great importance for African Governments to work together to stop wars as a viable solution to ensuring the protection and prevention of recruitment and use of child soldiers. Rwanda is taking the lead on the continent in the implementation of the Vancouver Principles, an international instrument launched in 2017 on the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Rwanda’s role in the achievement of global peace has certainly contributed to this great cause.
Putting children at the top of the peace and security agenda
Preventing conflict is one of the protection mechanisms that is particularly important for the future of humanity and attainment of sustainable peace and security, yet children living in conflicts continue to experience undeniably exhausting violence and torture.
Putting an end to war today preserves the future generation. Rwanda adopted the child rights upfront approach to convey the plight of children on top of peace and security agenda. This approach not only aims at protecting civilians during war but also ensure the protection of children as a critical component to the attainment of peace and security.
At the fore front, Rwanda serves as a regional hub on the continent presenting learning opportunities for the region on designing effective policies and programmes that enable citizens to live in peace and stability in their societies while promoting the rights of children and caring for their needs before during and after conflict.
Creating an enabling environment for children
War or any form of violence against children is not an opportunity to make a better future but rather a devastation. War takes away their childhood and denies them access to opportunities and basic social services such as education, health care and sense of belonging.
Denial to such opportunities creates unique and long-term effects thus shaping the type of adults they are going to become. War incline inter-generational hatred and fights among generations and creates long lasting violence and long-lasting moral injuries on children and their families.
Governments should provide the necessary amenities for children and prevent issues that leads to the recruitment and use as child soldiers. If we bring up our children properly and nurture them well, they will not rebel against their families and societies or disrupt peace.
At the Vancouver Principles workshop held in Kigali, 2019, organized jointly between the Rwanda Defence Force and the Dallaire Institute for Peace and Security to honor the second year of the adoption and implementation of the Vancouver Principles, the Minister of Defence of Rwanda, Hon. Albert Murasira emphasized on the importance of Protecting children as a key to the future of humanity and attainment of sustainable Peace and Security Agenda both on the continent and domestically.
He urged that “Nations that have worked hard to attain peace such as Rwanda, they should take lead in the prevention of recruitment of child soldiers for the attainment of greater peace around the world”
Rtd Gen. Roméo Dallaire, founder of the Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security during the same occasion pointed out in his speech “protecting children builds hope for the African Continent”. “We will continue to fight until one day we will make recruitment and use of children soldiers unthinkable,” he said.
Let us all strive for peace because peace is the most powerful means to reduce or put an end to the recruitment and use of child soldiers the future for tomorrow.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.