How Quickly a Week Flies By!

Darin Reeves

By: Darin Reeves

At the Rwandan Peace Academy in Musanze, Rwanda, another trained cadre of military professionals join the growing ranks of security sector actors trained to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers around the world. Following completion of the one week “Basic” course, delivered by the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and in partnership with the Government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Defence Force, these newly trained and educated men and women are now better prepared to interact with child soldiers, and to protect children in areas of conflict.

Speaking on behalf of RDF leadership, Colonel J. Rutaremara stressed the importance of this training, “This initial course is very important because it marks the beginning of the operationalization of the joint framework of cooperation between RDF and the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative”, referring to the training partnership formalized through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Rwanda and the Dallaire Initiaitve in May 2016.

Graduates of this program have achieved a a significant milestone in equipping the RDF to plan, organize and conduct its own training on preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and now provide the RDF a unique opportunity to build a better, common understanding in dealing with children and child soldiers in a proactive, not reactive way.





Quick 5: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the News





The Arms Trade and Child Soldiering

Dustin Johnson

By: Dustin Johnson

Header photo credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

The image most commonly brought to mind by the phrase child soldier is that of a boy holding an AK-47 assault rifle. While not every child soldiers carry a gun, the availability of small arms and light weapons has helped precipitate the security concern child soldiers pose.

The importance of small arms to the use of child soldiers has always been acknowledged by campaigners and the UN, who point out that modern assault rifles are simple, cheap, and relatively light. A child can learn to operate and maintain them in under an hour proficiently. Consequently, a child can quickly mobilise into a capable fighter. However, small arms have traditionally been ignored by the international arms control regime, with its focus on heavy weaponry, aircraft, missiles, and weapons of mass destruction.

A recent report from Terre Des Hommes Germany and three other German NGOs highlights how small arms and light weapons produced by German companies end up in the hands of child soldiers in multiple countries. Pathways include the supply of arms to unstable countries where they are later diverted to paramilitary groups, or looted by armed groups, using child soldiers. German guns, built under license in secondary states, can be exported to third countries where they fall into the hands of child soldiers. Loopholes in arms control legislation and the government placing other factors ahead of child soldiers in the decision to grant export licenses. While the longevity of firearms, with German-made guns from as early as the Second World War still being used in conflicts worldwide.

The issue of small arms and light weapons are certainly not a purely German problem though. Many countries make and export small arms around the world, and some governments directly supply foreign armed groups despite the use of child soldiers. Weapons from countries such as the USChina, Iran, and Sudan end up in the hands of armed groups that use child soldiers around the world, whether as the result of intentionally supplying them, or their diversion by corrupt officials or their looting from government caches. The complex interaction of the legal arms trade, illegal arms trafficking, and insecurity and corruption too often leads to weapons intended for legitimate state security forces ending up in the hands of children.

The report puts forwards three key recommendations, which are relevant to all countries engaged in the manufacture and trade of small arms, light weapons, their components and ammunition:

  • Make national arms export requirements more restrictive, and not let strategic or economic interests override child protection when it comes to their implementation;
  • Restrict military training and aid for armed forces that use child soldiers; and
  • Push for the implementation of better international treaties and safeguards on the arms trade, such as the Arms Trade Treaty.

Preventing the use of child soldiers requires a multifaceted approach, and this report highlights important steps that national governments can take to reduce the access to weapons for armed groups and forces that use child soldiers.

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Protecting Children’s Rights and Preventing Their Use by Terrorists

By: Dustin Johnson

Header photo: Unsplash/Alessio Lin

A recent in-depth piece in the Washington Post examined the ISIS-directed or inspired attacks that have taken place in Germany over the last year, all perpetrated by children. 10 children, mostly teenagers, were involved in 5 different plots or attacks over the past year, and the German intelligence agencies have identified another 120 children suspected of having been radicalized to violence.

Many of the children involved in these plots come from an at-risk background, making them easier for ISIS to recruit. According to the Post:

“Religious extremist propaganda, Salafist propaganda, can only work if it is addressed to an audience that is already marginalized and feeling uncomfortable in society,” said Goetz Nordbruch, co-director of Horizon, a German group offering counseling and workshops on Islamophobia in German schools. “The public discourse is turning against these kids, against Islam… It is making it harder for them to feel both Muslim and German.”

As ISIS loses ground in Iraq and Syria to the various forces fighting it, they have focused more on directing or inspiring attacks in Western countries, through propaganda and communication over social media and messaging apps. Children are intentionally targeted. As the Post article relates:

“The amount of Islamic State videos and propaganda aimed at children has really jumped in recent months,” said Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and Deradicalization Studies. “We haven’t seen anything quite like this, not on this scale and of this quality. They know that in the West, you don’t expect a 10-year-old to be a terror suspect.”

This shows that ISIS is intentionally recruiting children for these attacks due to the advantage they bring from being less likely to be detected. In the case of Germany, laws constrain the ability of the intelligence services to track children suspected of being radicalized, while in general we do not usually assume that a child might pose such a threat.

Unfortunately, growing awareness of this latest challenge from ISIS does not always lead to balanced responses based in a thorough understanding of the use of children by ISIS. Germany’s response has included positive steps such as deradicalization programs for children, while changes to laws governing how intelligence and law enforcement authorities can track children will need to be carefully balanced to both protect children’s rights and the safety of the public.

Other countries have not provided as nuanced a response however. One need not look further than the United States, where the now-rescinded and highly controversial travel ban led to the temporary detention of a 5-year-old American boy of Iranian ancestry by border patrol agents. White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended this action by saying “To assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.”

While ISIS is clearly seeking to exploit gaps in counter-terrorism when it comes to children, such an action as described above is not what is needed in response. Given the chaotic implementation of the travel ban and the age of the detained boy, it is certain that there was no actual evidence indicating a threat, and he was detained simply for who he was. Such an approach to countering the use of children by terrorists is both counterproductive and immoral.

An effective strategy that protects human rights, children, and the public must be primarily preventative, while equipping law enforcement with the right abilities to prevent attacks, and providing programs to deradicalize children who do become involved in groups like ISIS, or any other terrorist group of any ideology.

Prevention should encompass, inter alia, interfering with the ability of adult terrorists to recruit and inspire children by countering propaganda and targeting law enforcement action at them; addressing factors that increase vulnerability to recruitment and inspiration such as prejudice against Muslims; and equipping law enforcement with the tools and knowledge to more effectively counter the use of children by terrorists while preventing the use of counterproductive strategies.

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