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Executive Summary: THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON CHILD SOLDIERS

Charlotte Drozd, Martyna Dobrowolska, Mariam Khorenyan, Moon Jung Kim, Crime Team

Week of Monday, May 17, 2021


Child Soldier in the Central African Republic[1]


The COVID-19 pandemic has led to various political, social, and economic changes worldwide, particularly in conflict-affected countries. Due to lockdown restrictions that state governments have implemented to reduce the proliferation of the pandemic, poverty levels and the lack of educational and job opportunities have drastically risen in these countries.[2] This has induced more distrust among the public towards their governments, many of whom have been unable to distribute necessities to their lower-income citizens and provide safety to those residing in high-crime areas. Regarding extremism, the lack of job opportunities and the closure of schools has forced many young people to remain at home and spend more time on the internet, which has exposed some of them to terrorist content and thus increased their risk for radicalization or, combined with the rise in lack of safety, kidnapping by criminal organizations. All of these COVID-19 related consequences are very likely to increase the number of children being recruited by armed groups. Despite recent international efforts to protect children's rights, minors are a vulnerable population that has grown to become an easy target for various criminals during the pandemic. Tackling this issue will require governments’ restructuring of current lockdown procedures and better cooperation between local communities and law enforcement.


Discussion


COVID-19 lockdown restrictions put in place by state governments across the globe have led to the worldwide closure of schools, which has, in turn, exacerbated the issue of children being recruited to fight in armed conflicts as soldiers. As children are now spending most of their time in their homes, numerous armed groups have shifted their tactics from recruiting children in schools to now targeting them on the internet or kidnapping and forcefully displacing them from their own homes.[3] This means that children, an already high-risk population for crimes such as trafficking and kidnapping, are now being targeted in locations where they and their guardians may feel they are the safest. This problem is especially becoming rampant in lower-income areas, where security and law enforcement patrolling is laxer than those of higher-income areas.


After being recruited voluntarily or kidnapped to serve in armed conflicts, some children are sent to camps for displaced people, where they are deprived of their liberty and exposed to additional protection risks.[4] These camps function as tools for criminal organizations to feed their ideologies to malleable children and motivate them to perpetuate recruitment and kidnappings. Without intervention, these children will contribute to a perpetual cycle of extremist activity, endangering more children’s lives and ensuring that crime continues to persist within society. As a prevention tactic, schools worldwide should receive state funding for cybersecurity tools and physical security forces such as high-resolution security cameras and security guards to help protect children from militant targeting. It is crucial that school buildings are monitored by trained adults to hinder criminals from accessing “openings” or “chinks” in school systems where they can reach students with relative ease.


Additionally, because poverty has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some parents have forced their children to join armed conflicts to work as cooks or to be sexually exploited as a way to make income.[5] Children are easily recruited if they are not preoccupied with school; armed groups prefer using children since they do not have to pay them as much as adults, and they can be easily managed. The number of children used in armed conflicts is likely to increase due to fiduciary struggles faced by many families throughout the world. Without financial relief provided by state governments, these desperate parents will continue to rely on exploiting their children to pay for their necessities. Terrorist groups may also continue to take advantage of these parents by offering them what many governments in conflict-affected areas are not able to guarantee to their citizens: healthcare, job opportunities, and education, as well as safety and protection. By leveraging such essential goods and services, terrorist groups will be able to manipulate families into handing over their children to become trained soldiers desensitized to violence and crime. In order to protect children from being forced into conflict, inter- and intra-governmental measures would need to be implemented to allow children to return to schools safely and provide financial support for low-income families that may be considering recruiting their children into armed conflict.


The pandemic’s fuel of the use of child soldiers calls for renewed efforts by the international community to combat and prevent the use of children in conflict. Primarily, the focus should be placed on capturing, prosecuting, and blocking recruiters from accessing more children. With such initiatives, recruiters will become more fearful of facing prosecution, decreasing the number of recruiters willing to take the risk. Second, countries facing this problem ought to provide localized solutions to opening schools safely so students can go back to focusing on their education. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person and routine attendance of schools complicated, schools provide a necessary escape from conflict and recruiters. Lastly, the international community should focus on creating mechanisms to return already captured children safely and reintegrate them back into society without the pressures of societal judgments. Such initiatives call for local communities to cooperate with national and international law enforcement agencies to investigate each child’s abduction. Upon finding the children, they need to be returned to their homes and reintegrated into society to regain their life and return to a sense of normalcy. Admittedly, these efforts will be challenging to implement. They are, however, necessary to combat and cease the use of children during armed conflict.


To help the international community fight child recruitment, The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) will continue to monitor news sources, social media, official reports, and statistics that discuss and show the concerning phenomenon of child soldiers worldwide. The Crime Team specifically will produce more reports on this problem - especially given the COVID-19 consequences - and provide new recommendations to the states and organizations focused on combating global child recruitment by armed groups. Lastly, CTG recognizes that it is paramount that the international community stops the culture of impunity of child recruiters and provides training to law enforcement - offering adequate resources to identify, combat, and prevent this phenomenon from happening.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1]Demobilize child soldiers in the Central African Republic” by hdptcar licensed under Public Domain

[2] Red Hand Day 2021: COVID-19 pandemic 'increases risk of children being recruited by armed groups', Euronews, February 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/02/12/covid-19-pandemic-increases-risk-of-children-being-recruited-by-armed-groups

[3] Children as Young as 6 Forced to Become Child Soldiers Due to COVID-19 Poverty, Global Citizen, February 2021, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/child-soldiers-covid-19-poverty-red-hand-day/

[4] Conflict-Affected Children at Heightened Risk of Grave Violations due to COVID-19, as 2020 Marked OPAC’s 20th Anniversary, Relief Web, January 2021, https://reliefweb.int/report/world/conflict-affected-children-heightened-risk-grave-violations-due-covid-19-2020-marked

[5] Children as Young as 6 Forced to Become Child Soldiers Due to COVID-19 Poverty, Global Citizen, February 2021, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/child-soldiers-covid-19-poverty-red-hand-day/

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