October 2012, Geneva, Switzerland – UNITAR, together with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative organized a Round Table Discussion on African Peacekeepers and Child Soldiers. The event was held back to back with the 4th session of the Advisory Board of the UNITAR Peacekeeping Training Programme and aimed at exploring capacity building through training and the development of minimum standards. The discussion was led by Sally Fegan-Wyles, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Director ad Interim of UNITAR and Roméo Dallaire, together with Dr. Shelly Whitman, Director of the Child Soldiers Initiative acted as key note speakers.
During his presentation, General Dallaire (retired) highlighted the vision of the Child Soldiers Initiative: “creating a world where children are no longer recruited or used as weapons of war”. The goal he formulated is to develop a security-based programme, which is designed to interrupt the cycle of recruitment of children by armed groups. When questioned as to why this issue is placed above others, Dr. Whitman stressed that “children are key to pursuing peace and security”. In order to make the international community aware of the topic, she concluded that children have to be put onto the security agenda.
The ensuing debate primarily focussed on the question of how to train soldiers and other security actors who are confronted with child soldiers during their field deployments. Given the fact that, at present, most Rules of Engagement concerning interactions with child soldiers are weak or non-existent, the discussants stressed that, along with the improvement of training efforts, the development of standards is key to a better performance. According to the opinion of the majority of participants, these should be grounded on the existing legal documents, such as the “Convention on the Rights of the Child”. Another aspect arising out of the discussion was the need for intensified cooperation between UN peace operations and humanitarian actors in the field. All speakers underlined the importance of the topic and expressed not only their interest but also the need for continued dialogue on the issue of Child Soldiers in peacekeeping.