Dr. Carolyn Filteau is Senior Researcher for the Canadian Centre for Men and Families at CCMF.Carolyn has been performing research work for CCMF for the last several months. She has a background in international relations with the UN. Recently she authored a paper on child soldiers entitled Child Soldiers: Whose Responsibility to Protect? The paper was presented at the International Legal Studies conference held at Ryerson University earlier this month. The paper was very well received and the organizer invited Carolyn to be a plenary speaker at next years conference in Singapore. They also asked her to do a three minute video on the conference. The paper is now awaiting publication in their online journal.

Congratulations Carolyn for your efforts to raise awareness of this difficult but important issue! This is the kind of work that makes CCMF proud.

We asked Carolyn to write up a short description of her work, which is as follows:

The paper introduces the importance of the international norm of ‘The Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) and the relationship it bears to children in war zones and more particularly to the use of child soldiers in the contemporary world’s many conflicts. The author argues that the Responsibility to Protect should be called upon to protect such children before, during and after armed conflict. One of the many illegal acts to which children (mostly boys) fall victim is recruitment by armed forces and armed groups. On the one hand, various conventions have been introduced at the international level that provide different kinds of protection for child soldiers depending on age (i.e., age 15 or 18). On the other hand, in spite of these laws and conventions, Dallaire tells us that the child soldier “has become the weapon of choice in over thirty conflicts around the world, for governments and non-state actors alike.”

In spite of the fact that over 120 countries are state parties to the Rome Statute (the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC)), the practice of training children to kill and commit war crimes and human atrocities continues in many countries. Thousands of children are still abducted, beaten into submission or join out of feelings of revenge, to escape poverty, or to defend their communities in war zones such as Syria, South Iraq and Yemen.

A UNICEF report on violations suffered by children reports an unprecedented number of children have been “maimed, killed and recruited for combat roles in 2016. Since 2014, warring sides have recruited younger children – some as young as seven. More than half of children recruited in cases verified by UNICEF in 2015 were under 15. In 2010 the greatest area of child soldiers was Africa (around 100,000 children). They were also in Guinea, the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and Asia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka (Tamil Tigers) Middle East: Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Iraq, Latin America and Colombia. These children are regularly encouraged to commit suicide attacks or are used as human shields.

The study shows that children may or may not become child soldiers of their own free will. In fact, the evidence suggests that children are most often forced or abducted into violent groups seeking their help. And, even if they are considered to be joining on a voluntary basis, the question of what is considered ‘voluntary’ is consistently under debate. Children in combat situations often find themselves without family, without food or shelter, without safety or security or education and see the fighters as a form of security and hope. Once in, they are often subject to numerous forms of abuse and exploitation including beatings, drugs, and sexual assault and are forced to commit heinous crimes for fear of their own lives.

The study looks further into the predicament of the child soldier as refugee and any existing regulations or laws that have been developed to help the child soldier integrate into a new country when returning to their own family and society is not an option. The relevant national and international humanitarian laws are emphasized in a world where the immigration and refugee crisis appears to be hardening prospects of entry for refugees (especially boys) who are, by definition, in extreme difficulty. The author reminds the reader of these children at risk and the efforts that need to be made by the international community to alleviate or prevent their suffering and to reintegrate them into society as contributing members with a legitimate, and safe, status and that they must not be forgotten in the rush to put national security ahead of humanitarian principles or concerns.