From October 3 to 5, Watchlist Executive Director Eva Smets participated in a conference organized by the Paris Principles Steering Group at Wilton Park, United Kingdom, entitled “Protecting children from extreme violence: towards a more comprehensive approach to prevention and response.” The conference provided an opportunity and space for humanitarian and development practitioners, policy makers, and child protection specialists to discuss strategies to better protect children from the impact of extreme violence in armed conflict.

In today’s world, the impact of extreme violence can be seen in multiple conflict settings. We have all been confronted with shocking images of children killed and maimed in the Syrian civil war and, through extensive media coverage and social media campaigns, know of the 276 school girls from Chibok that were abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. Extreme violence, however, is not limited to these conflicts. Central Africa is still dealing with the impact of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the civil war in South Sudan is increasingly marked by brutal inter-communal violence. In an environment where armed conflicts and the tactics used to wage war are increasingly violent and extreme, child protection and other humanitarian actors face growing challenges to adequately respond to children’s needs.

Furthermore, even after a degree of peace returns and children attempt to return to normal life, exposure to extreme violence often leaves them traumatized, raising significant challenges for their reintegration into society. The social and psychological test on their families and communities can be almost insurmountable, as they struggle themselves to recover from their own experiences of extreme violence. The sometimes negative reaction of families, communities, and local authorities can further defy recovery and reintegration for children if it results in stigma or even detention.

To facilitate the development of better policies and programs to address the impact of extreme violence on children, the Wilton Park conference intended to achieve three main objectives:

  • Inform programmatic guidance currently being developed by the Steering Group and its members on addressing recruitment and use of children, including for extreme violence;
  • Inform recommendations for actions supportive of addressing the recruitment and use of children, especially for extreme violence, as part of the planned February 2017 – 10th Anniversary of the Paris Principles and Commitments;
  • Produce evidence to inform pragmatic approaches to respond to the needs of children and youth in developing legislation and policy around extreme violence by Member States.

The upcoming 10th Anniversary of the Paris Principles and Commitments event will offer another opportunity for child protection specialists and policy makers to come together to continue examination of the issue of extreme violence and further strengthen the tools available to the international community to better protect children. Watchlist looks forward to continued involvement in ensuring the rights and security of children are upheld in all conditions of armed conflict.