Dallaire Initiative aims to train security forces on dealing with child soldiers

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By: Darrell Cole

AMHERST – An organization based in Halifax is working to eliminate the use of child soldiers in conflict around the globe.

Speaking to members of the Amherst Rotary Club during its Remembrance Day observations, Josh Boyter of the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative said his organization is working to train security forces in trouble spots how to handle child soldiers and how to stop their recruitment by warring groups.

“Our ambitious mission is to progressively end the use of child soldiers through a security sector approach,” Boyter told Rotarians. “We are moving toward this goal by conducting ground-breaking research, conducting high level advocacy and facilitating practical scenario-based training for security sector actors.”

Boyter said the Dallaire initiative is different than others working to eliminate the use of child soldiers in that it is prevention oriented. While demobilizing and re-integrating child soldiers is imperative, it’s important for the international community to move beyond fixing what’s broken to dealing with the problem as a whole.

He said his organization is working to stop child recruitment before it starts during times of conflict and before. The initiative is partnering with security forces since it’s the military, peacekeepers and police that often come in contact with child soldiers without knowing how to deal with them.

Security forces have an important role to play in child protection, he said, but they are seldom given concrete tools to do this task effectively.

Boyter said the Dallaire initiative provides child soldier specific rules of engagement for security personnel as well as standard operating procedures.

A child soldier is someone 18 years old or younger and goes beyond children carrying guns and ammunition to include those who are forced to serve in peripheral roles like cooks, porters, scouts and spys.

“The use of child soldiers has led to contemporary conflicts being drawn out longer and sometimes leading to incidents of mass atrocities,” Boyter said. “It’s an issue being faced by militaries across the globe, including our own most recently in Afghanistan. Children now, more so than ever in the past, are being used because of their youth and perceived tactical advantages.”

Child soldiers are popular weapons of war, Boyter said, because they are vulnerable, plentiful and easy to manipulate. He said they are also cheap to maintain and unaware of the repercussions of their actions.

“Above all they propose a serious moral challenge to their enemies and men and women like us who are charged with protecting them,” he said, adding soldiers and security personnel are unsure of what to do when they come up a child soldier on the field of battle or at checkpoints.

Boyter said the initiative has approached this issue through research, advocacy and training, which he added is the cornerstone of the group’s work.

In 2013, the initiative started a long-term project with Sierra Leone that provides child-specific training to every member of that country’s armed forces. That country, which saw a vicious civil war end just over a decade ago, is now working with other countries including Somalia to provide training on how to prevent recruitment of child soldiers and how to deal with those children they engage on the battlefield.

This is also being put to practice in the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia, where in many cases child soldiers are used by warlords to seize shipping.

He said research is also continuing in various areas including the use of children as early warning indicator for mass atrocities, the role of women in peacekeeping, the role of religious leaders and chaplains on the issue of child soldiers, the use of the Internet and the recruiting of child soldiers and the use of children in Maritime piracy.