Children as young as eight are still at risk around the world from the unlawful recruitment by armed forces or armed gangs despite a landmark agreement 15 years ago in Paris to combat the use of children in conflict, organisations including Save the Children and UNICEF warned.
The child rights agencies, along with the government of France and other members of the Paris Principles Steering Group (PPSG) – formed after the Paris Principles and Commitments were agreed in 2007 – are now launching new guidance to tackle the issue.
The Paris Principles Operational Handbook provides comprehensive guidance on the Paris Principles for child protection specialists, government officials and other practitioners working to prevent and respond to the recruitment and use of children by armed actors.
“In conflicts around the world, the recruitment and use of children – often children already among the most vulnerable – takes a brutal, destructive, and long-lasting toll on their physical and psychological development and well-being,” said UNICEF Director of Programme Group Sanjay Wijesekera.
“This handbook is a critical tool in not only protecting children from the risks of recruitment, but also providing children who have been recruited with the best chance of a more positive future.”
In many conflict-affected areas, children continue to face the threat of recruitment by armed actors, who exploit them as fighters as well as for sexual violence and other forms of abuse.
The 2007 Paris conference, hosted by the Government of France and UNICEF, brought together 68 countries – including those affected by the recruitment and use of children as well as donor nations – to tackle child recruitment and to harness the political will to confront it.
“The handbook is a valuable tool that will provide new momentum for the implementation of the Paris Principles and to once and for all free children from war,” said Nicolas de Rivière the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations.
“Children displaced or living in areas of conflict are among the most vulnerable children in the world. Their rights should not be paused or overlooked,” said Gabriella Waaijman, Humanitarian Director at Save the Children.
“Children can be incredibly resilient, and, with the right support, they can recover from the toughest situations and thrive. As a global community, we must protect the most marginalised children from recruitment and use by armed actors and hold perpetrators of grave violations to account.”
So far 112 UN Member States have endorsed these important political and policy commitments. Many Member States have also taken action to turn their commitments into reality with concrete support for tens of thousands of children who have been prevented from becoming recruited, who have been supported after their release, or who have found justice for a violation of their rights.
However, despite these achievements, the reality is that warring parties continue to recruit and use children in situations of armed conflict around the world at alarming rates. Reintegration support required by children is not always available, and justice is often elusive.
UNICEF, Save the Children and the PPSG are calling on Member States who have not endorsed the Paris Principles and Commitments to do so and for all States to implement them.
The Paris Commitments and Paris Principles support actions to help prevent recruitment and prompt release and reintegration of children who have been recruited and used by armed forces and groups. They are also a call for the international community to take urgent action to address the needs of affected children and their families, highlighting that continued collective vigilance, commitment, advocacy, and operational support are required to truly end all recruitment and use of children by armed actors.
The handbook explores the complex reasons children become involved with armed groups and forces, the changing nature of children’s involvement, and the laws, resolutions and standards designed to protect children. It also provides practical examples of how best to integrate the latest knowledge and best practices into programme work – both in terms of prevention and response.