The United Nations Children and Armed Conflict Agenda: Integrating Child Protection Issues and Children’s Voices in Peace Processes

Wednesday, May 5, 2021
by Asha Asokan

By Asha Asokan

Abstract

One in five children lives in a country affected by conflict (Save the Children 2019). Despite concerted international and national efforts to protect children, these 415 million children face grave human rights violations that continue to rise. More political will and resources are needed from governments and parties to the conflict to prevent such violence against children and protect children in armed conflict. However, research confirms that out of 431 ceasefire and peace agreements, less than 18 percent of peace agreements included child protection provisions (Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict). Often, peace-related documents that mention child protection issues do not mention integrating children's participation into peace processes, which is essential to understanding and addressing children's needs during and after the conflict. To end the cycle of violence against children, a paradigm shift must be made in the way peace agreements address children’s issues and rights. Guided by the “Global Policy Paper on Youth Participation in the Peace Process,” commissioned by the United Nations Envoy on Youth, this paper recommends that mediators and child protection actors employ three integrated but non-hierarchical layers for including child protection issues and children’s participation in the peace process: “in the room,” “around the room,” and “outside the room” of formal peace negotiations. This multi-layered, inclusive approach may help achieve the desired results: preventing violence against children and reaching a sustainable peace.


"Everyone talks about ‘the impact of war on children.’ But how do you measure the impact of war? Who suffers the greater horror, the child who is violated or the child who is forced to become a perpetrator? We are the victim, the perpetrator, and the witness, all at once.” —Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report for the Children of Sierra Leone 2004.

Introduction

Armed conflict has a devastating impact on children, wounding them physically, mentally, and emotionally (Machel 2001). The nature of war and conflict has changed over time with the increased use of improvised explosive devices, modern technologies, and hostilities in densely populated areas, all of which blur the distinction between civilians and combatants (United Nations). As a result, civilians, including children, are the most affected by conflicts, including increased displacement and casualties (Marc 2016). For instance, the number of children living in a conflict zone rose by more than 75 percent from the early 1990s to 2016, from 200 million to 357 million. Meanwhile, the number of children killed and maimed increased by 8 percent from 2011 to 2014, from 11,458 to 12,393. Violence and grave human rights violations against children during and after the conflict also increased, which has severe implications for their physical and emotional wellbeing (Save the Children 2018).

Discussing child protection issues and needs during the peace process can be an effective starting point to generate the political will needed to resolve or mitigate conflict (United Nations 2020). It can help to build engagement with the parties to the conflict, improving the chance of peace. Failure to address child protection issues and needs during the peace process by parties to the conflict generates additional tensions in communities, leads to protracted insecurity, and constrains peacebuilding efforts. Mediation strategies that address child protection issues and systematically tackle grave human rights violations against children can contribute to a more sustainable peace. (United Nations 2020). However, international mediators’ focus has been on protecting children during the violence, with less attention placed on their protection and needs post-conflict.

The number of children living in a conflict zone rose by more than 75 percent from the early 1990s to 2016, from 200 million to 357 million.

To understand the concerns and needs of children affected by armed conflict, it is imperative to include their issues in peace agreements and include their voices during the peace process. Of the 12 resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council on children and armed conflict, 10 include language on integrating child protection provisions during peace processes and including children's voices where possible. However, the language in these resolutions is often not implemented into action. This paper will analyze the needs, gaps in frameworks, and challenges in integrating child protection provisions into peace agreements, as well as children's participation in peace processes. It will also provide strategies and implementation plans to integrate child protection issues into peacebuilding processes mediated by the UN and others. To do so, it aims to answer two policy questions:        

  1. What framework can the international community use when integrating child protection issues and child participation into the peace process?

  2. How can we incentivize mediators, governments, the UN, civil society, and other actors to prioritize child protection issues during the peace process?            

The following discussion draws on an array of academic and applied literature, UN resolutions and documents, as well as interviews with five child protection experts working with the UN and non-profit organizations.

 

Context of the Issue: Children in Violent Conflict Situations

Global context of children in conflict

More than one in five children worldwide are affected by armed conflict (Save the Children 2019). The effects are both direct and indirect and are associated with both immediate and long-term harm. The direct effects include death, physical torture, and mental torture, such as trauma. Many children are recruited as combatants and sexually exploited during the conflict. For instance, in South Sudan, more than 19,000 children have been recruited by armed forces and groups (UNICEF). Indirect effects include separation from family, unsafe living conditions, starvation due to food shortages or lack of access to food, long-term health issues, and denial of education (Kadir, et al. 2018).

A child soldier in Yambio holds his weapon.

A child soldier in Yambio holds his weapon. Image UNMISS welcomes release of hundreds of former child soldiers in Yambio by UNMISS Media licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The need for child protection is growing due to increasing levels of conflict worldwide. Alarmingly, the number of children living in conflict zones has doubled since the end of the Cold War (Save the Children 2019). Violence against children in conflict countries has also increased. According to the UN report on Children and Armed Conflict, during the period from January to December 2019, a record 10,173 children were killed or maimed by state actors, non-state armed actors, and multinational forces in 20 conflict situations monitored by the UN around the world (United Nations 2020). More than 25,000 verified incidents of violations of child rights were also reported in 2019, a sharp increase from the previous year. The number of children used in armed conflict worldwide has more than doubled since 2012, with a 159 percent rise in recruitment cases. (Relief Web 2019). This data only presents a partial picture of the number of grave violations against children as access restrictions, security threats, and limited child protection resources within UN peacekeeping and humanitarian operations limit data availability.

The “integration of child protection issues” and “children’s participation” in peace processes

A peace process can encompass many activities, including ceasefires achieved through negotiations, peace agreement negotiations, signing of peace agreements, nation-building, and disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation of former combatants (DDR) (Wakugawa 2012). The most articulate definition of the peace process is “a mixture of politics, diplomacy, changing relationships, negotiation, mediation, and dialogue in both official and unofficial arenas” (Saunders 2001). Peace processes can be divided into two stages. The first stage of a peace process is the cessation of violent conflict, while the second stage is peacebuilding; in practice, peace negotiations are often conducted despite ceasefire violations. Cessation of violent conflict can be further broken down into two phases: negotiation and cessation of hostilities. Peacebuiding can be broken down into transition and consolidation (Ball 2001).

Table 1: Stages of the Peace Process

Phases Cessation of conflict   Peacebuilding  
Stages Negotiations   Cessation of hostilities Transition                 Consolidation
Main Objectives
  • Agreeing on key issues to enable fighting to cease
  • Signing of peace agreement
  • Establishing ceasefire 
  • Separation of forces
  • Establishing a legitimate government for effective governance
  • Implementing reforms to build political institutions and establishing security
  • Starting social and economic rehabilitation
  • Promoting societal reconciliation
  • Continuing reform
  • Continuing             economic and social recovery    
  • Promotion of social reconciliation    

In recent years, the UN and other child rights agencies have recognized that children should be part of peace processes. The UN Security Council, through several resolutions, including resolutions 1261 (1991), 1460 (2003), 1314 (2000), and 2427 (2018), urged that not only children’s welfare and rights be considered during the peace process, but that children participate in the peace process. Children’s participation during the transition from conflict to post-conflict phase, especially in transitional justice, is significant in breaking cycles of violence as it enables the documentation of human rights abuses and provides an opportunity for children to tell their stories and participate in reconciliation. It also helps societies understand the impact conflicts have on children and reinforces their role as active citizens.

The UN’s mechanisms to protect children affected by armed conflict

The codification of child protection issues began in 1996, when the UN General Assembly established the Office of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict (hereafter called OSRSG CAAC) to protect children in armed conflict. Subsequently, the UN Security Council issued 12 resolutions for the protection of children in armed conflict. The first Security Council Resolution, 1261, was adopted in 1999, placing the issue of children affected by the war on the Council’s agenda.

In 2005, the Security Council established a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) to monitor, systematically document, and report to the Security Council on six grave violations committed against children in armed conflict situations by armed forces and groups (Security Council Resolution 1612). These violations are:

  • Killing and maiming of children
  • Recruitment or use of children as soldiers 
  • Sexual violence against children
  • Abduction of children
  • Attacks against schools or hospitals
  • Denial of humanitarian access for children

Every year, through MRM, reports on these six grave violations against children are submitted to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General. The annual report highlights global trends regarding the impact of armed conflict on children. Two important outcomes of the report are (i) naming and shaming of both state forces and groups perpetrating violations against children through a UNSG’s listing process; (ii) the OSRSG CAAC engages with member states and parties to the conflict during the peace process and after to prevent violations, including signing and implementing Action Plans with armed forces and other armed actors/groups to end child rights violations; and (iii) reports are used to impose sanctions on perpetrators (United Nations 2009). 

Until 2018, all 11 resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council focused on protecting children during the conflict but lacked a clear path forward on post-conflict needs. Furthermore, there was little reference to children's participation in the agenda. In contrast, Security Council Resolution 2427, passed in 2018, emphasizes the importance of integrating child protection into conflict prevention and conflict resolution strategies. The resolution calls on Member States, UN entities, and other relevant actors to include child protection provisions—especially those related to the release and reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and groups—into all peace negotiations, ceasefire, and peace agreements and their monitoring mechanisms. It further calls for children's rights and protection to be incorporated in conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery, as well as peacebuilding planning and strategies. The resolution also urges action to consider children's views in designing and implementing such policies and programs, where possible.

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides children the right to have their views heard and due weight given in any decisions affecting them. (United Nations 1989). In addition to the CRC, several UN Security Council resolutions, including 2427, stress the importance and need for involving children in the peace process (United Nations 2018).

 

Problem Analysis: Description, Scope, and Magnitude

A decade after the CAAC office was formed, the number of grave violations against children during violent conflict, especially by armed groups, is increasing at record levels (See Figure 1). Such violations also occur unabated in some post-conflict situations. Children in armed conflict situations are extremely vulnerable and disproportionately suffer the consequences of wars that they have not chosen to start. If left unaddressed, these violations can have lasting negative impacts on children and jeopardize sustainable peace, feeding grievances and frustrations that lead to protracted violence and injustice.

Violations against children

Figure 1: Violations against children. Based on data from OSRSG CAAC. Note: This chart only reflects verified cases. Verification standards are high. Therefore, the numbers shown here may not reflect total violations.

Two aspects are important to consider for the purposes of this paper: integrating child protection issues effectively into peace processes and including children's active participation in such processes when appropriate. During conflict and post-conflict situations, children have rights and needs. Children, such as those injured and disabled during conflict, also require specific assistance, which is often not prioritized. Despite a Security Council Resolution (SCR 2427, 2018) in which the Council stressed the importance of giving due consideration to child protection issues from the early stages of all peace processes and encouraged facilitation of children's views in these processes, these words have not been translated into action (Mikavica 2019). Hence, there is an urgent need to design peace processes that address the dual nature of children’s experiences and their resulting specific needs.

The problem analysis below helps shed light on the gap between commitment and action to include child protection issues and child participation in the peace process.

Causes of the Problem

1. Mediators and parties to the conflict downplay children’s rights and needs during peace processes

Mediators and parties to the conflict often do not consider children’s views during peace processes. Stakeholders view children affected by the conflict as needing protection rather than being rights holders, as was expressed during mediation by parties to the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and FARC-EP (Mikavica 2019). After analyzing the 431 relevant documents from the UN Peacekeeping Database from 1999 to 2015, only 17 percent of peace agreements, ceasefire agreements, and other peace documents from the Central African Republican, Colombia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, South Sudan, and Sudan included child protection references (United Nations 2020). Except for Colombia, where efforts were made to include children’s views, none of the peace documents referred to or included child protection language in the peace process. In most cases, mediators do not prioritize child protection issues and children's participation, stating that the process of mediation is already very complex. For instance, in a survey conducted by Dragica Mikavica during her research on "Child Participation in the Peace Process" in Colombia, one respondent stated that mediators often have too much on their plates, and that asking them to integrate child protection, let alone children's views, into complex negotiations reduces the mediators' flexibility and freedom (Mikavica 2019).

2. Lack of understanding among mediators and child protection actors on how and when to include child protection issues and child participation in the peace process

Children and child protection issues are excluded from peace processes due to a lack of common understanding among mediators and child protection actors, compounded by the absence of official guidance on how to do so properly. In February 2020, the UN launched practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict. However, this guidance does not address children’s participation in the peace process or decisions that affect them. Furthermore, the guidance document lacks strategies for implementing child protection and participation inclusion language into action. Despite the guidance, confusion of how child protection issues and child participation should occur acts as a deterrence to the UN, Member States, mediators, and child protection actors.

3. Social and traditional values continue to act as the main barrier for children’s participation in the peace process

Children and youth are labeled and stereotyped as being irresponsible, inexperienced, and rebellious. Many societies around the world still have not recognized the positive role of children and youth. Cultural and social norms and parental authority affect youth’s ability to participate in groups and forums addressing peace issues. Additional institutional barriers are created by governments, political leaders, decision-makers, international peacekeeping missions, and multilateral institutions that ignore and exclude youth and children from participation in peace processes (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Denmark 2019). This perception stems from the belief that children should attend school rather than be part of decision-making processes. Excluding children from peace processes strips them of their agency and undermines the value they add to the peace process.

Effects of the Problem

1. Harm to children due to unsustainable reintegration of children alienated by war

Approximately 65,000 children globally were released from armed forces and other groups between 2007 and 2017 (UNICEF 2017). When armed conflict is resolved with a treaty, children's needs, and particularly those of child soldiers, are rarely addressed in the peace agreement. Once an armed conflict subsides and child soldiers return to civilian life, many of them no longer have anyone to turn to because their family may have been displaced or killed during the conflict. At times, families reject a former child soldier due to crimes they may have committed or because of "perceived alliances with enemies, or social consequences arising from disability, psychosocial difficulties, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other possible effects" (Alfredson 2002).

The Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children's involvement in armed conflict (2000) recognizes children involved in armed conflict primarily as victims who require rehabilitation and social reintegration. In practice, children are detained by parties to the conflict because of their association with the other group. During a 2018 interview conducted by Watchlist in Iraq, children detained for their alleged affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) described torture during interrogation with plastic pipes, electric cables, and rods. Some said they confessed to being involved with IS simply to stop the torture, despite having little or nothing to do with IS  (Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict 2019).

2. Social injustice due to lack of accountability of perpetrators of grave violations 

Research shows there has been an increase in the number of grave violations committed against children over the past decade (United Nations 2020). There is minimal accountability for perpetrators of grave violations against children in armed conflict at both the international and national levels. The four Geneva Conventions and their two Additional Protocols, customary international humanitarian law, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide require accountability for perpetrators who commit grave violations against children. Despite these legal documents, few perpetrators are held accountable.

The peace process is an opportunity for parties to the conflict to agree that perpetrators committing grave violations against children must be held accountable for their actions.

Furthermore, amnesties to parties to the conflict are often incorporated or negotiated in the framework of peace agreements. For instance, in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir granted amnesty to Riek Machar (former rebel leader) and other rebel commanders (Human Rights Watch 2019). In contrast, the Colombian peace agreement does not allow for amnesty or pardon of those who committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, hostage-taking, kidnapping of civilians, torture, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, sexual violence, forced displacement, and the recruitment of minors (Josi 2017). The peace process is an opportunity for parties to the conflict to agree that perpetrators committing grave violations against children must be held accountable for their actions.

3. Specific post-conflict needs of children are not addressed

Children have special needs and rights before, during, and after armed conflicts. For example, girls have special needs compared to boys due to gender differences. Many children are disabled during armed conflict, either from hostilities or from land mines, and their needs are different from those of able-bodied children. During the violence, infrastructure and institutions are destroyed, affecting children's ability to access many services. For example, children with disabilities also face barriers to accessing education in emergency settings. A 2018 study of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon noted above found that, among children 13 years of age and over, refugees with disabilities were more likely to be illiterate and to have never been enrolled in school. Among children 6 to 12 years of age, children with disabilities were more likely to have never been enrolled or dropped out of school (UNICEF 2018). Furthermore, grave violations result in physical and psychological impairments. If children's specific needs are not addressed in peace processes, they will not be given priority in later development processes.

4. Continued violence and violations of child rights in the context of armed conflict

Just as continued hostilities can be the cause of exclusion of children’s issues and voices during a peace process, children’s exclusion can be a cause of continued hostilities, perpetuating a cycle of violence. The peace process is an opportunity to engage with all the conflict parties and to develop consensus on the need to prioritize the protection of children. Negotiations provide a channel through which children’s needs can be heard, leading to the development of special programs to enhance reintegration into society. As stated by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “Child protection issues can be an effective starting point to generate the political will to resolve or mitigate conflict. Putting the protection of children at the heart of mediation efforts, for example, can build engagement with the parties to the conflict, improving the chances of sustainable peace” (United Nations 2020).

 

Global and Country Analyses of the Inclusion of Child Protection and Children's Voices in Peace Processes

According to Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, only 75 out of 431 peace-related documents contained “child protection” provisions. Of these 75, a mere 56 documents included CAAC-specific issues, while the majority had provisions regarding grave violations. The issue here is that there are very few attempts made to include children’s voices in the peace process or decision-making process affecting them. For instance, “Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (Sudan), 31 May 2011,” the only peace agreement that has inclusion language, says, “Special measures shall be taken to ensure the participation of women and youth...The Parties shall make special efforts to ensure the participation of IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees, including women and youth, in the planning and management of their return or resettlement and reintegration.” To implement the language, the government signed an action plan and efforts were made to release children from their army ranks and prevent child recruitment (United Nations 2017). It is clear that the inclusion of child protection issues and children’s voices in peace processes is missing. For this study, this paper focuses on five country situations to analyze their commitment to child protection during post-conflict peace processes. Country-specific case studies are included below.

Table 2: Country Analysis (United Nations 2020)

Country Child protection language in peace agreement Inclusion of children's voices in peace process
Central African Republic The Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic, signed in Bangui on 6 February 2019 between the Government and 14 armed groups, addresses all six grave violations against children and establishes a fully-fledged monitoring system for the implementation of the Agreement. However, the agreement does not address the special needs of children affected by armed conflict. No language on the inclusion of children’s voices in the peace process.
Colombia The peace process in Colombia is considered a landmark illustration of the inclusion of child protection issues in the peace process. The Joint Communique No. 70 of 15 May 2016 (Havana, Cuba), reached between the National Government and the FARC-EP, agreed to the release of minors under 15 years olds from the camps of the FARC-EP and to prepare a road map for the release of all other minors, as well as a special, comprehensive program for their care. The agreement acknowledges citizens' rights for minors and their right to participate in the decisions that affect them. Colombia is an example of a child-inclusive approach to the peace process.
Myanmar The 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement between the parties to the conflict in Myanmar recognized the need to protect children and included a provision to prevent grave violations against children. This step was further recognized by the Union Peace Conference, at its third session in July 2018, through its specific commitment to “set up and conduct programs to ensure children’s rights, abide by the United Nations CRC for all-round development of children and eliminate the six grave violations against children.” No language on the inclusion of children’s voices in the peace process.
Nepal In the Comprehensive Peace Accord (Nepal) signed on 22 November 2006, the Nepalese Government and the Communist Party of Nepal agreed not to include or use children who are 18 years old or younger in the armed forces. Similarly, in the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies (Nepal) signed on 8 December 2006, both parties agree to provide special protection to women and children's rights. No language on the inclusion of children’s voices in the peace process.
South Sudan In the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, the parties agreed to “not engage in any acts of violence against children, girls, women and the elderly.” Similarly, the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, signed on 17 August 2015, also has clear child protection provisions/language, including ending the use and recruitment of children. No language on the inclusion of children’s voices in the peace process.

The UN has identified specific lessons learned from four countries (Colombia, South Sudan, Yemen, Sierra Leone) that incorporated clear child protection issues in their peace agreements or at any stage of the peace process:

  • Specific DDR program for children released from armed forces and/or groups.
  • The immediate ending of recruitment and use of children under the age of 18.
  • Inclusion of child protection issues serve as a confidence-building measure that creates momentum to move the peace process forward (Colombia).
  • Significant decrease in grave violations against children (Nepal).
  • Speedy release of children associated with armed forces and groups (South Sudan, Nepal, Philippines, Colombia). (United Nations, OSRSG CAAC 2020).     

The following section proposes a strategy that espouses yet also builds on these principles to ensure that child protection issues and children’s voices are included in the peace process.

 

Proposed Strategy

Table 3: Strategies for Inclusion
Phases Cessation of conflict   Peacebuilding  
Stages Negotiations   Cessation of hostilities Transition                 Consolidation
Main Objectives
  • Identify and agree on key child protection issues and concerns.
  • Ensure children's views/voices are taken into consideration where possible during the process.
  • Include child protection issues in the peace agreement.
  • Include specific references to grave violations against children, and in particular, categorize such acts as violations of a permanent ceasefire.
  • Include operational modalities to identify, separate, demobilize, and reintegrate children associated with parties to the conflict.
  • Ensure children's views/voices are taken into consideration where possible during the process.
  • No amnesty for perpetrators of grave violations against children.
  • Provide for monitoring and reporting.
  • Design and implement child-specific DDR procedures and departments.
  • Implement reforms in legal and other institutional frameworks to address the gap in child protection.
  • Include children in societal and traditional justice mechanisms for accountability and reconciliation purposes.
  • Child protection should be a standing item on the agendas of all structures and bodies relating to the implementation of security arrangements.
  • Consider context of reintegration of children.
  • Continuing reforms to protect children.
  • Continue sustainable reintegration of children.
  • Provide attention to special needs of children.
  • Accommodate children's needs in the areas of education, health, social protection, and livelihood.   
  • Allow for active, child-led participation (listening clubs involving stakeholders from across sectors). [1]

Mediators and negotiating parties should be trained on children’s rights and the need to include child protection issues and children's voices in the peace process, and ensure that the parties to the agreement fully understand their commitments. The UN and other child protection actors should establish a mechanism to train mediators, negotiators, and other relevant officials on integrating child protection provisions in peace processes.

Member States should encourage negotiators in peace agreements to call for the following:

  • The immediate release and reintegration of children
  • The protection of children in security sector reform
  • The identification of the six grave violations against children as a violation of the ceasefire and their inclusion as prohibited acts
  • The protection of children's rights in justice and reconciliation mechanisms, recognizing that children should be treated as victims first
  • The protection of children in monitoring arrangements
  • The provision of social services for children
  • No amnesty for perpetrators
  • Support for the funding and monitoring of child protection provisions in peace processes.

Mediators and negotiators should use different approaches to ensure children's participation in every stage of the peace process; however, their security should be the primary concern. Participation does not necessarily mean having a child at a negotiating table but having their views meaningfully engaged, including shaping the setup of any mechanism or process. This inclusive approach should also be gender-sensitive and allow girls and boys to express their views freely. Their participation should be based more on their experiences as children. It is imperative to create a safe space for children to tell their stories to ensure participation. The following three forms of participation represent a valid and meaningful approach to implementing Article 12 while offering different degrees of opportunity for children to influence matters affecting them (UNICEF and Save the Children 2011).

1. Consultative participation

This is a process in which adults seek children's views to build knowledge and understand their lives, experience, needs, and concerns. This form of participation does not put children in the decision-making seat, but instead, recognizes that children have expertise and perspectives that need to inform adult decision-making. Consultative processes can be used to ascertain the views of children of all ages, including very young children. Consultative participation can be done via consultative processes through the school system, focus group discussions, nationally organized events, meetings, and conferences. Consultative participation can be done during peace negotiations and cessation of hostilities to better understand children's needs, concerns, and issues in armed conflict.

2. Collaborative participation

This provides a greater degree of partnership between adults and children, with the opportunity for active engagement at any stage of a decision, initiative, project, or service. Collaborative participation provides an opportunity for shared decision-making with adults and children to influence both the process and the outcomes in any given activity. This can be through the establishment of child clubs and youth clubs. Through collaborative participation, children can be involved in truth and reconciliation mechanisms and decisions regarding child DDR. For instance, in Nepal, engagement and participation of child clubs increased the rate of reintegration of conflict-affected children (McGill and O’Kane 2015).

3. Child-led participation

Through child-led participation, children are afforded or claim the opportunity to initiate activities and advocate for themselves. Under this model, children lead the process and identify issues of concern, with adults serving as facilitators rather than leaders. Children can initiate action as individuals, for example, choosing a school, seeking medical advice, pressing for the realization of their rights through the courts, and utilizing complaint mechanisms. This participation happens during the consolidation phase of a peace process.

To achieve this inclusion principle, it is imperative to have child protection and rights language incorporated into peace agreements and other documents related to the peace process. The second step is implementing child protection and child rights provisions agreed on in the document. The implementation phase can be divided into two phases.

Phase 1: Including child rights-based and child protection-focused language in the peace agreement.

Prepare the mediators for the consideration of child protection issues in the peace process.

Mediators need to be prepared to consider child protection issues throughout different phases of the peace process. This can be done by training mediators to familiarize themselves with the comparative advantage of addressing child protection issues in a given conflict situation, perhaps encouraging the inclusion of relevant elements in the different agreements that will be negotiated. Additionally, the mediation team should have child protection expertise. This expertise can be personalized from the OSRSG CAAC, UNICEF, or a child protection adviser as part of UN peacekeeping operations.

Focus conflict analysis on the protection of children.

A child protection-focused and rights-based conflict analysis can help mediators and negotiating parties determine the most relevant child protection issues in the country or area that need to be dealt with throughout negotiations. This analysis should also focus on identifying the stage of the peace process at which they can be safely introduced. This can be done in cooperation with the OSRG CAAC, as the office has information related to child rights violations in conflict countries.

Identify key child protection elements to be considered under each substantive issue of the mediation process. 

It is important to identify ways in which child protection can be integrated into the substantive issues that are brought to the negotiating table, including discussions on ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, security arrangements, governance, and transitional justice systems (United Nations, OSRSG CAAC 2020). For instance, child protection was highlighted in the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord in Sierra Leone, which addressed children's special needs in DDR. Other examples include establishing age-verification mechanisms and child-friendly screening procedures within armed forces and groups to prevent the recruitment of children under the age of 18. Including child protection elements in the peace process context has in some situations been seized as an opportunity for broader child protection and violence prevention in a conflict context. (United Nations, OSRSG CAAC 2020). 

Seek agreement between the parties to the conflict on child protection-focused and right-based language in the peace documents.

Mediators should explore the idea of discussing child protection issues during the initial stages of mediation as a confidence-building measure between parties to the conflict. Mediators should make every effort to put children at the center of any political agreement. This will increase the chances of preventing future violations and ensure children's protection by parties to the conflict.

Furthermore, as recommended by Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, mediators should include determinative rather than aspirational language in child-related clauses (e.g., “will,” “must,” “shall,” rather than “should”) to ensure specific action during the implementation phase, where possible. They should explain technical, child-specific terminology so that the parties to the conflict understand it clearly. Furthermore, they should highlight gender considerations, clearly using the terms “boys” and “girls” to underscore the differential impacts of the conflict.

Phase 2: Inclusion of child protection issues and children’s voices in the peace process

Children's participation in the peace process and transitional justice is essential for breaking the violence cycle. It also helps to build their capacity as active citizens. However, the “Do No Harm” principle needs to be considered while involving children in the peace process. Most children affected by armed conflict are either victims or have perpetrated crimes in their armed forces or groups; participation could pose a potential threat for those children. Hence, the involvement of children in peace processes should be guided by children’s best interests. Participation must be voluntary and based on informed consent. Furthermore, the child's safety and security must be assured and remain confidential. The child's age and developmental stage need to be considered, and only trained staff that are fully familiar with child-friendly and gender-sensitive procedures should directly interact with the child, including in the context of criminal proceedings. It is important to prepare and expand guidelines on child protection in peace processes. The proposed manual should have user-friendly language (graphics, cartoons, etc.) and be translated into all working languages.

 

Implementation Design

During a peace process, children's participation can be either "in the room, "around the room," and/or "outside the room." [2] This approach is adopted from Altiok and Grizlej (2019).

Figure 2: Mapping of children’s participation in peace processes. Source: Altiok and Grizelj (2019). 

Figure 2: Mapping of children’s participation in peace processes. Source: Altiok and Grizelj (2019). 

Layer 1: In the room

This layer includes children inside the room where negotiations and political dialogue are held, participating in the formal peace architecture. It is imperative to create a safe space for children to tell their stories, needs, and perceptions. The inclusion of children’s voices can also be in the form of sharing their message to the parties to the conflict. The purpose is to ensure that children’s needs and concerns are considered for decision-making by mediators and parties to the conflict. Participation of children during this process could address many children’s issues, including sustainable reintegration of child combatants, special needs for children disabled during the conflict, psychosocial support, educational needs, family tracing, and reintegration of displaced children.

Layer 2: Around the room

This layer does not include children directly in the main room, but rather enables participation close to the peace agreement, connected through formal or informal mechanisms. By including children and youth affected by armed conflict in child/youth specific committees, children will be able to share their concerns and issues in national dialogues. For instance, child clubs in Nepal initiated the “Schools as Zones of Peace” campaign and advocated for child soldier issues. This initiative received much attention both in national and international media. It also allowed children to share their views and experiences during the armed conflict (Save the Children Norway - Nepal 2008). Considering the sensitive role of child soldiers, it is essential to use a careful approach to their participation to avoid harm.

Layer 3: Outside the room

This layer includes children who engage and participate in peace processes through informal and alternative approaches. One of the most important parts of the peace process is obtaining justice against the perpetrators and recognizing the victims, children included. This is critical for the restoration of peace and achieving a sustainable peace. For instance, Sierra Leone's children were able to participate in the peace process through special hearings and closed sessions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Recognizing that children were among the primary victims of the civil war and that their involvement was essential in promoting reconciliation, members of the Commission developed child-friendly measures to ensure that children felt safe when recounting their experiences (UNICEF).

Principles to be followed by mediators, parties to the conflict and other stakeholders during the peace process are:

  1. No child should be discriminated against on the basis of the child’s gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion, physical abilities, or any other protected status; neither should the status of her or his parent or legal guardian be taken into account (Article 2 of CRC).

  2. Consider the best interests of children during peace negotiations in all decisions that will—directly or indirectly—affect them (Article 3 of CRC).

  3. All actions undertaken, and decisions made for the protection of children, should respect the principle of “do no harm.

 

Conclusion

Several challenges remain for the full and proper inclusion of children's issues and voices in peace processes. First, parties to the conflict lack the political will to protect and include children in peace processes in a genuine manner. Therefore, advocacy is needed. UN Member States, civil society, and international and national organizations should advocate that mediators and parties to the conflict prioritize discussions on child protections during peace negotiations. To promote inclusion, successes and challenges in each conflict country should be reported to the Secretary-General through the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanisms (MRM). The office of the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict office should ensure the participation of children during the peace process and children's participation in the MRM mechanism.

Second, social and traditional values will act as barriers to implementing the design. The UN and child protection actors must bring such analysis to mediators and conflict parties in order to overcome these challenges. Third, child protection and the inclusion of children in peace processes is an evolving concept, as the notion of children’s participation in peace processes has now been endorsed by UN Security Council through several resolutions. Despite this, mediators and negotiators lack the capacity and technical knowledge to integrate child protection into peace processes appropriately. To overcome this challenge, the UN, international organizations, and civil society must collaboratively raise awareness of children’s specific protection needs and provide training to mediators and negotiators.

The inclusion of children’s voices in the peace process should be based on “Do No Harm”, “non-discrimination,” and “the best interests of the child” principles.

This paper has identified a set of recommendations, proposing a way forward for the inclusion of children’s issues and voices in the peace process.

  • Including child-protection focused and rights-based language in peace documents so as to prevent violations against children and increase the sustainability of agreements.
  • The peace agreement should clearly state that the six grave violations against children are a violation of the ceasefire and include them as prohibited acts.
  • Key child protection issues should be considered under each substantive issue of the mediation process.
  • The mediators, negotiators, and other relevant officials must receive training and guidelines to integrate child protection provisions into peace processes.
  • The inclusion of children’s voices in the peace process should be based on “Do No Harm”, “non-discrimination,” and “the best interests of the child” principles.

In order to end the cycle of violence against children, a paradigm shift must be made in the way peace agreements address children's issues and rights. Placing children at the center of any peace agreement increases the chance of preventing future violations against children and ensuring children's protection. The inclusion of children's voices in the peace process can help set the foundation for enduring peace and security. If we want to break the cycle of violence and build strong and peaceful societies, we must invest in children's rights and put the child protection agenda at the forefront of all phases of the peace process.

*This article was edited by Sean Cremin (Princeton University), Rocio Cara Labrador (Princeton University), and Shilpa Venigandla (Columbia University).


About the Author & Acknowledgements

Asha Asokan, a Rotary Peace Fellow alumna, is a 2020 graduate of the Masters in International Development Policy program at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, with a concentration in human rights, peace, and conflict resolution.  Asha would like to thank Professor Rosemary Fernholz and the JPIA editors for their comments.


Notes

1. Based on author's experience working on child protection issues in South Sudan from March 2016 to August 2018.

2. This layer concept is taken from a global policy paper that uses an integrated approach toward youth participation in peace processes (Altiok and Grizelj 2019). 


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