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By: Davene Jeffery

A program created to stop the recruitment and indoctrination of child soldiers is also helping Halifax police deal with gangs and with the radicalization of youth here, Romeo Dallaire says.

The former senator, retired lieutenant-general and founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative spoke to a large crowd at Citadel High School Tueday night about ending the use of children as weapons of war.

The Initiative, based at Dalhousie University, has developed training programs that help military forces facing child soldiers in conflicts to de-escalate situations, as well as a school curriculum to teach young children about resisting indoctrination.

However, it is also helping police in this country prevent young people from joining radical groups like ISIS.

“They are recruiting here,” Dallaire said.

“There are child soldiers being created in this country.”

These groups target kids who are disenfranchised, or who have been bullied or who can’t see where they are going, he said.

He said his organization is looking at developing processes to help prevent these young people from being sucked in by radicals.

Dallaire’s organization is also working on a set of tools to help municipal police forces in this country, said initiative executive director Shelly Whitman.

“Our work is very practical, scenario-based training,” she said.

“What we try to do is create an awareness of the context and then give tools in terms of what they can do in improving their interactions with youth.”

Dallaire said he is not against organizations that are helping rehabilitate former child soldiers, but these groups are not stopping armed groups from using children to help them fight.

They are spending billions of dollars, but the problem is not going away, he said.

There are currently seven states and about 50 non-state groups around the world using children as weapons.

And the numbers of child soldiers around the world is growing, he said.

While most security forces train their members to see child soldiers as just another combatant, Dallaire says he wants to change that.

“We believe that children are human.”

“We don’t want soldiers killing kids.”

Dallaire said the training program his organization has developed is tactical, scenario-based and helps teach soldiers how to diffuse situations.

He said he is also encouraging the use of female soldiers on the front lines, because the presence of women has been shown to help diffuse child soldiers.

But these training programs are expense.

“I need money,” Dallaire told the crowd.

The initiative currently has an annual budget of about $1.2 million a year, Whitman said.

“It’s been steadily growing, but we have a lot of requests for our work.”

More information about the initiative can be found online at childsoldiers.org.