From 11 to 12 July, commanders and military leaders from 10 Free Syrian Army (FSA) affiliated groups participated in a workshop on how to provide better protection to children in Syria, including the prevention of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Five representatives were physically present, while another five participated online. The meeting took place in Geneva in the presence of representatives from diplomatic missions and United Nations child protection and humanitarian experts
Among the participating groups, five had already signed in 2017 the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict. This meeting was also an important milestone in monitoring the signatories’ respect for the Deed of Commitment. The concerned groups explained the measures that they took following their signature of the Deed, including the enforcement of sanction mechanisms or changes in internal rules. They also expressed the challenges that they face every day.
“Because of the war, many children are left without their families or in great poverty. Joining an armed group can be one of the only options open to them. Despite this situation, we express our willingness to keep respecting our commitment on protecting children in armed conflict signed with Geneva Call,” stated the representative of the five FSA signatories. “We encourage other armed actors to follow this path.” All of them requested humanitarian and development organizations to scale up services for children, which can help to prevent them from joining armed groups.
Geneva Call will continue to monitor the groups’ respect of their commitments and provide training on child protection for their officers. For the non-signatory groups, the workshop was an opportunity to learn more about the Deed of Commitment and the legal framework surrounding child protection. Some of their representatives expressed a keen interest to sign the Deed.
“In a conflict that is the theatre of so many violations perpetrated against children, it is encouraging to see armed actors taking on board a humanitarian commitment to protect children” added Alain Délétroz, Geneva Call’s Director General.
The meeting also provided an opportunity for the United Nations to propose measures to further strengthen the protection of children in conflict in line with international standards. Complementing the work of Geneva Call, the United Nations calls upon parties listed in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict to engage on Security Council mandated action plans to halt and prevent child recruitment.
According to the recently published Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, the United Nations verified more than 960 cases of child recruitment in 2017, involving all major non-State armed actors in the conflict. Nine out of ten children serve in combat roles and one in four children are under the age of 15. Verified reports of child recruitment in the Syrian conflict have continued to increase year after year.