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Children in conflict

Published: 12-30-11

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Children in conflict

In protecting children, who have known violence throughout their lives, peacekeepers can break the cycle of violence and lay the foundations for durable peace.

Three children riding donkeys past a UN peacekeeper.

UN Photo/Stuart Price

A patrolling member of the Rwandan battalion of UNAMID encounters children on donkeyback fetching water.

Conflicts disproportionately affect children. Many are subject to abductions, rape, military recruitment, killing, maiming, and numerous forms of exploitation.

In the words of Graça Machel, former First lady of Mozambique and South Africa: "War violates every right of a child – the right to life, the right to be with family and community, the right to health, the right to the development of the personality and the right to be nurtured and protected."

The Security Council has addressed this issue since 1999 and protection of children in conflict has been included in the mandates of peacekeeping operations since 2001. In these past ten years peacekeeping operations have helped release thousands of child soldiers and advocate for legislative reform.

How is UN Peacekeeping protecting children?

We believe that everyone in a peacekeeping operation should play a role in protecting children from the effects of war.

  • Peacekeeping military are crucial in signalling violations against children to the child protection staff, helping to identify and release children from armed groups.
  • UN Police work jointly with national police to respond appropriately when dealing with children.
  • Judicial Affairs Officers ensure that children’s rights are secured in national legislation.
  • The head of the peacekeeping operation works to ensure that child protection concerns are a priority in the peace process.

Within peacekeeping operations, all personnel receive training on child rights and child protection to make them aware of the concerns that affect children in conflict. Through that training, all of them become credible advocates for children.

What are child protection advisers?

Child Protection Advisers are specialist staff sent to missions to help them fulfill the child protection mandate. Their work includes:

  • Ensuring that child protection becomes an integral part of the mission’s engagement. This is done through mainstreaming and advising the mission leadership.
  • Training newly-deployed peacekeepers on child protection, which complements the training on child protection every peacekeeper must receive prior to his or her deployment.
  • Advocating: the child protection adviser acts as an advocate, facilitator, and an adviser to the mission leadership on pertinent child protection issues.
  • Monitoring and reporting the most serious violations against children.

Child protection advisers play a key role in establishing dialogue with perpetrators to end the gravest violations against children. This dialogue has led to the signing of action plans by military and armed groups and the release of thousands of child soldiers.

What difference does monitoring and reporting make?

The Security Council, in resolution 1612 PDF Document, established a mechanism to monitor and report on the most serious violations that are committed against children in conflict. This mechanism referred to as the 1612 Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), reports on six grave violations.

The MRM reports that are thereby compiled - with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other partners – are critical, as they are the basis of action of the United Nations Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and could ultimately result in sanctions.

Armed groups, who are reported to commit violations against children, enter in to a dialogue with the mission and UNICEF. The aim being to develop an action plan on how to systematically end these violations.  

Where do child protection advisers operate today?

Child protection advisers currently work in the following Peacekeeping operatio:

Since 2001, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has deployed child protection advisers in Sierra Leone, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Haiti and the Sudan.

How do peacekeeping operations fit into the big picture of child protection?

The work of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is complementary to other actors in child protection. Cooperation with them is critical to provide a comprehensive response. The child protection function within peacekeeping does not implement programmes for the local government. This independence gives operations a certain leeway to spearhead highly political and sensitive activities on the ground.

Resolutions and policy

The following Security Council resolutions and policy govern the work of peacekeeping operations in protecting children:

Security Council resolutions


Universal Children's Day 2011 podcast

20 November marks Universal Children’s Day, a day to remember the children growing up in wars throughout the world, and to reaffirm our commitment to stand up for their rights and to take firm action. In this podcast, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, Assistant Secretary-General and Military Adviser to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, talks about his personal encounters with children as the former Force Commander in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the successes and challenges in introducing child protection in the daily work of his soldiers. You can listen to the podcast here MP3 audio (right click to save).