Education to prevent child recruitment
Prevention of recruitment and reintegration of former child soldiers is high on the JRS agenda. There is a strong link between forced displacement and the forced recruitment of children by armed groups. Displaced children are an easy target for recruiters since they often lack adequate protection and education. JRS stresses the need for education as a means to decrease recruitment, and to give children a meaningful alternative to enlistment.
A former member of the Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers, JRS continues to work closely with its successor, Child Soldiers International, reporting on the use of children by armies or non-state actors.
- JRS position
- In practice
- Children, Not Soldiers
JRS Working Paper on Child Soldiers
The recruitment and use of children as soldiers – some as young as six years old – are obvious violations of the elementary rights of children and have been termed as the "worst form of child labour" by the International Labour Organisation1. These practices have been repeatedly condemned by different states and international organisations. The exact number of child soldiers worldwide is not known, but the figure is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. They are used by both government and non-governmental groups.
Children who are involved in this horror participate in activities like espionage, supporting armed groups as informants and messengers, engage in illicit activities such as drug production or simply become victims of sexual exploitation. Male children who belong to such a group may assume command roles later on. They also act as decoys, logisticians, domestic labour, porters and assist in distributing materials to other combatants.
Many children are killed, seriously wounded or imprisoned. Child soldiers are often brutally treated; they do not have enough to eat, nor access to health care. They are regularly beaten and humiliated in order to transform them into violent persons with the result that rehabilitation into society is an enormous challenge.
These practices and others are presented in different ways, mainly as forced recruitment. But in some cases, structural conditions push children to join armed groups voluntarily. Poverty, lack of employment/sustainable livelihood opportunities, lack of education, a desire for revenge against those who may have already killed their families and relatives, the militarised environment, the circulation of small arms … are some of the factors that may push a child into recruitment.
When recruitment is forced, military leaders wish to recruit children because they are obedient, they have the capacity to learn quickly and are willing to undertake all tasks. They are also cheap to recruit and easy to maintain. Finally they are considered as “pure? according to mystical beliefs and they are known to be hard and fearless combatants.
The International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers stated that by 2007, hundreds of thousands of children around the world have become victims of these crimes. The work experience of JRS in some regions of the world also allows us to affirm that such cases continue to rise. In those instances there was no distinction between actors: the children were involved in conflicts as part of state military forces, paramilitary groups, self-defence groups, militias or insurgency groups.
All states must ratify or accede to international treaties related to this issue and take all necessary measures to ensure their compliance. Other relevant stakeholders such as international organisations, civil society organisations and parties in conflict should contribute by promoting the international law in the domain:
The Protocol I Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions states that children are subject to special protection in the context of armed conflicts and as such should be protected from any type of attack. This provision is reaffirmed in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict establishes 18 as the minimum age for joining the armed forces.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the recruitment or enrolment of children under 15, or their use for participating actively in hostilities as a war crime applicable for national or international armed conflicts. It also prescribes prosecution under the International Criminal Court (ICC) for child recruiters.
The ILO 182 Convention, related to the Worst Forms of Child Labour prohibits mandatory or forced recruitment of children and their use in armed conflicts, and defines it as a practice similar to slavery.
Suggestion for change –that governments consider changing their national legislation to outlaw the recruitment of children under 18 years old.
Involvement of JRS
Recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts has become an enormous challenge in the work of JRS throughout the world. In many cases, JRS projects are carried out in conflict settings with high social complexity, where, among other situations, the recruitment of children and their participation in hostilities is a continuous hazard. In addition, JRS strives to adhere to the standards set by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which provides that no person under the age of 18 years should take part or be recruited for any armed activities2.
It has already been proved in JRS experience that there is often a relation between forced displacements in a country and the forced recruitment of children. Those children displaced are an easy target for recruiters. There is a lack of protection and education (e.g. secondary education in camps might decrease). As long as the JRS mission is to accompany, to serve and to advocate for those who lost their home, we are committed to this issue of child soldiers.
To this end, JRS works closely with the Child Soldiers International, the predecessor to the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Within this framework, JRS denounces the situation of children in conflict zones, initiates awareness campaigns and submits recommendations that allow action to be taken. This helps to establish points of connection between the most excluded areas and the decision-making centres at the international level.
In Latin America, JRS has been working for more than a decade in Colombia on a programme focused on preventing children from joining armed groups and from illicit activities. JRS has also offered access to education to refugees and asylum seekers in Venezuela.
In Africa, JRS-Grands Lacs has been working to improve the life conditions of children affected by the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These actions consist in the identification and demobilisation of child soldiers, in support for family reunification, in follow-up through psychological care and helping them to get access to primary and secondary education. JRS is also conducting a similar project in Chad with demobilised child soldiers to help their integration back into society.
In JRS-Eastern Africa, JRS works to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers back into their communities. JRS supports peace building to mend relations between former child soldiers returning to their communities which were ravaged by these child soldiers; JRS helps former child soldiers with psychosocial support, education (primary and secondary school, adult literacy), training them in agriculture, life skills, HIV/AIDS awareness and recreational activities such as sports and cultural dances.
Recommendations / talking Points
To the parties in conflict
1. Article 3 of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999.
In practice – JRS responses
In Latin America, JRS has been working for more than a decade in Colombia on a programme focused on preventing children from joining armed groups and from illicit activities. By empowering minors, JRS helps them to become aware of their rights and to envisage alternatives for their future. JRS has also offered access to education to refugees and asylum seekers in Venezuela as a preventive measure against recruitment.
In Africa, JRS Grands Lacs has been working to improve the life conditions of children affected by the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These actions consist in the identification and demobilisation of child soldiers, in support for family reunification, in follow-up through psychological care and helping them to get access to primary and secondary education. JRS is also conducting a similar project in Chad with demobilised child soldiers to help their integration back into society.
In JRS Eastern Africa, JRS works to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers back into their communities. JRS supports peace building to mend relations between former child soldiers returning to their communities which were ravaged by these child soldiers; JRS helps former child soldiers with psychosocial support, education (primary and secondary school, adult literacy), training them in agriculture, life skills, HIV/AIDS awareness and recreational activities such as sports and cultural dances.
In Chad, there is no clear plan of action to remove children from the army and other rebel groups. Through its education projects, JRS Chad works towards the rehabilitation of former child soldiers, seeking durable solutions for them. We promote the setting up of local committees whose role is awareness-raising in communities, so that everyone can play a role in the prevention of recruitment. Our advocacy hinges on open dialogue with the army and the Ministry of Social Affairs for a large disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme. JRS is also contributing to the drafting of an action plan to be submitted to the authorities by the NGO community.
The Jesuit Refugee Service and the campaign Children, Not Soldiers
The campaign Children, Not Soldiers, led by the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG CAAC) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), has the goal of ending child recruitment by national security forces around the world by the end of 2016.
This campaign aims to increase protection of children from this violation through complementary and coordinated action from the UN and other NGOs. In response to an invitation from the office of the SRSG CAAC and UNICEF, JRS has decided to endorse publically the campaign, and to use the campaign materials and messages in its advocacy and communications activities designed to help end the recruitment of children by armed groups by the end of 2016.
Populations at risk. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in camps are at particular risk of being exploited by armed entities. During conflict, families are torn apart; community-support structures collapse. Profound economic and social instability, violence and a breakdown in law and order place children at serious risk of recruitment by armed groups.
The JRS commitment. The campaign is in line with the mission of JRS to: serve, accompany and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS is committed to serving and protecting displaced children who are recruited as combatants or otherwise affected by conflict. In particular, JRS programmes seek to provide these children with protection and with concrete alternatives to involvement in conflicts.
JRS recognises and works to highlight how cuts in services are forcing children to join both national and other armed groups. To provide children with other opportunities and support, JRS has many pastoral care and education projects, including peace education for both children and adults. These education programmes extend beyond traditional instruction. They include both vocational training and livelihood programmes to provide practical alternatives for children, so armed groups do not seem like their only hope.
Furthermore, as JRS encounters child soldiers or children at risk of recruitment all over the world (CAR, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Colombia etc.), staff acknowledge the importance of voicing their stories, for only then can one understand their situations and adapt services to their needs.
For years, JRS has been advocating for the end of the child recruitment, as well as supporting the reintegration of children into their communities. Examples include: