‘Cradled by conflict': study looks at children and armed groups

Friday, 23 February 2018

Worldwide | DPKO

The United Nations University (UNU), together with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Governments of Luxembourg and Switzerland, presented their new study, ‘Cradled by conflict -  Child Involvement with Armed Groups in Contemporary Conflict’ on 12 February.

The study took place against the backdrop of current conflicts and seemingly new challenges posed by ‘violent extremism’ or radicalization. Analyzing the cases of Syria, Iraq, Mali and Nigeria, it aims to create a better and evidence-based understanding of how and why children become associated with non-state armed groups, are used by, and exit these groups.

While the public perception often seems to indicate that radical ideologies play a key role for the recruitment of children in non-state armed groups, the study draws a much more nuanced picture. Ideology is rarely the primary motivation to join, and if it plays a role, it is usually just one among many other factors influencing a child’s trajectory into armed groups. Furthermore, the study shows that there is no set group of factors that result in child association with an armed group. Accordingly, programs that seek to prevent recruitment of children should avoid focusing exclusively on ideology and adapt a much more holistic and context specific approach.

Equally complex is the disengagement of children from armed groups. While demobilization of entire armed groups as a part of a peace process is usually expected to be a discrete process, disengagement from non-state armed groups is more likely to be a process where a child disengages over time.

Another aspect the study is emphasizing is the impossibility for children to remain neutral towards armed groups. When such groups control territory and are the only provider of basic services such as employment or security, joining may often be the only realistic survival strategy for children.

The study is part of a two-year research project and will result in programmatic guidance for practitioners in the field working to protect children from association with non-state armed groups. The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) section of DPKO/OROSLI contributed financially to the project, facilitated contact with field practitioners and gave substantial advice.

To download the full publication, click here