CAF sets precedent with child soldier doctrine
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have set an important precedent with the development of a doctrine to specifically address the unique challenges faced by military members confronted by child soldiers while deployed on operations. This Canadian initiative directly supports the United Nations Security Council resolution 1261, which urges parties to armed conflicts to abide by concrete commitments made to ensure the protection of children in situations of armed conflict.
The Canadian Armed Forces Joint Doctrine Note (JDN) 2017-01 Child Soldiers was developed following discussions with Senator Romeo Dallaire on his direct experiences with child soldiers, as well as those of CAF members who have met challenges when facing underage combatants. The doctrine was produced in a condensed timeframe, reflecting its high priority for the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance.
“Child soldiers are a truly sad reality of conflict in some of the places where our personnel may be called upon to serve," General Vance said. "I am confident this guidance will better equip members of the Canadian Armed Forces to manage this aspect of conflict in the future and help reduce the notion of child soldiers being exploited.”
The JDN offers guidance to individuals, units and commanders on how to approach the difficult situation of conflicts involving child soldiers, including maximizing the safety of Canadian Armed Forces members and child soldiers. It includes guidance for the planning and execution of operations, including specialized pre-deployment training.
This initiative is consistent with Canada’s overall commitment to ending the use of girls and boys in hostilities, as demonstrated by our efforts as chair of the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict at the United Nations in New York, the funding of a number of child protection initiatives, and Canada’s recent endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration.
In 1999, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution expressing grave concern with the impact of armed conflict on children, and strongly condemning the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict. The use of child soldiers is in contravention of International Humanitarian Law. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court classifies the recruitment of children under the age of fifteen years into fighting forces, or their use in hostilities, as a war crime and – in some cases – a crime against humanity.
This JDN provides a provides a common understanding of the issues facing operations in which child soldiers might or will be encountered, and how these issues should be handled within CAF doctrine. It provides a concrete definition of child soldiers; identifies their vulnerabilities; defines the military problem with encountering child soldiers; and proposes approaches to important issues like Rules of Engagement and the handling of child detainees.
Commanders are expected to use the JDN as the baseline guidance for their pre-deployment training, operational and mission-specific considerations, and post-deployment follow-up for personnel.
Although the JDN is the first joint doctrine specifically providing strategic direction to the CAF regarding potential encounters and engagement with child soldiers, it is not the first doctrine to address the complexities of encountering children during operations