A recent report from the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) highlights the devastating impacts of child recruitment and use not only on the directly affected children, but also on their families, communities, and peace and security more broadly. The report also underscores the important work of dedicated child protection experts in UN Peace Operations.

The report, Our Strength Is In Our Youth: Child Recruitment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 2014-2017, examines the drivers of child recruitment, the persistent perpetrators of this grave violation in the DRC, other violations often suffered in connection with recruitment, and the process of separation from armed groups and reintegration into society. According to the report, between 2014 and 2017, 6,168 children were separated from armed groups and militia in the DRC, and hundreds more are believed to still be among their ranks. The report details progress made in decreasing child recruitment, including through the work of MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section to raise awareness at the national and local levels, engage with armed group commanders, and advocate for accountability.

Child Protection Advisers (CPAs) are specialized staff deployed by UN peace operations to help them fulfill their child protection mandates. According to the UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO), CPAs’ work includes the following:

  • Placing the concerns of children onto the peace and political agenda;
  • Ensuring that child protection is an integral part of the mission’s engagement, including through mainstreaming and advising the mission leadership;
  • Training newly deployed peacekeepers on child protection, which complements the child protection training every peacekeeper must receive prior to his or her deployment;
  • Acting as an advocate, facilitator, and an adviser to the mission leadership on pertinent child protection issues;
  • Monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children; and
  • Liaising with UNICEF and other child protection actors for follow-up and response to individual cases.

Most importantly, CPAs play a key role in establishing dialogue with perpetrators to end the gravest violations against children. This dialogue has led to the signing of 32 action plans since the beginning of the UN’s Children and Armed Conflict (CAC) mandate to end and prevent violations and secure the release of thousands of child soldiers.

In the DRC, MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section engaged with the Government to develop and sign an action plan in 2012 to end and prevent child recruitment and sexual violence. Continued engagement with the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC) led to concrete changes for affected children and the subsequent delisting of the FARDC for recruitment and use from the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict in 2017.

Ongoing UN reform processes, including budget cuts and efforts to streamline protection mandates, continue to threaten the UN’s ability to effectively deliver on the CAC mandate. Today, more than ever, dedicated child protection capacity is needed to monitor and report on grave violations, operationalize action plans, and strengthen the overall child protection architecture in UN missions. Watchlist reiterates the importance of the specialized role and function of CPAs, and the need to preserve, robustly resource, and politically support these sections in UN Peace Operations.