Children in armed conflicts

Children and armed conflict: some notions

Children are the first victims of a conflict and they suffer in many ways during armed conflict. Children are killed or mutilated, are left behind as orphans, are kidnapped, and are deprived of their right to education and health care. Children are often left with physical injury and emotional trauma. 

Children are still recruited and used as child soldiers but it is important not to limit the subject of children and armed conflict to child soldiers. Girls are often subject to additional risks, in particular sexual violence and exploitation. All these categories of children are victims of armed conflict. Belgian policy focuses on all these children, without any distinction.

International and regional instruments

At international level, there is a wide range of instruments concerning the issue of children and armed conflict and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child contains various provisions on the subject. However, its Optional Protocolon Children in Armed Conflict goes into more detail and affords additional protection.

Through Resolution 1612 (July 2005) of the UN Security Council, the subject of children and armed conflict became a fixed item on the agenda of the Security Council. A Security Council working group was set up to deal with reports drawn up through a monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM). The group deals with all conflict situations involving child soldiers. 

Moreover, the Paris Principles and Paris Commitments have a supplementary role, emphasising prevention of recruitment and reintegration of child soldiers into society (health, education, work).

Action by Belgium and the European Union

Belgium has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict. In February 2007, Belgium took part in the Paris Conference and signed the Paris Commitments.

As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (2007-2008), Belgium actively participated in the activities of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.  

Moreover, Belgium works closely with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) regarding the issue of Children and Armed Conflict.

Belgium’s policy on child soldiers forms part of Belgium’s overall attention to human security which also includes the ban on landmines and cluster munitions and the fight against illegal arms trade.  Belgian legislation (law of 26 March 2003) prohibits the export and transit of arms to countries for which it has been established that they use child soldiers in the regular army. There is a clear link between the struggle against the deployment of child soldiers and that against illegal trade in small arms and light weapons. Where possible, there should be mutual reinforcement between our activities in both policy areas. 

Belgium also earmarks millions of euros to fund projects concerning child soldiers, at multilateral level (including UNICEF) and various NGO projects.

European Union guidelines

EU guidelines are documents adopted by the EU which describe the various ways in which the EU’s priorities in the field of human rights are implemented in relation to non-Member Countries.

Within the EU, specific guidelines on children and armed conflict have been adopted to actively monitor the problems, e.g. in political dialogue with non-member countries and in undertaking specific action. These guidelines supplement the more general guidelines on promoting and protecting children’s rights. 

UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict

 EU Guidelines on children and armed conflict  (PDF, 109.09 KB)