Calgary Herald

War's impact on children touches us all

Recruitmen­t and use of child soldiers in conflict poses unique challenges, say Romeo Dallaire and Shelly Whitman

- Dr. Shelly Whitman is executive director of the Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security. Lt.-gen. (retd.). Roméo Dallaire is its founder.

On Nov. 11, Canada honours those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and security. Unfortunat­ely, too frequently, we fail to openly discuss the realities of these operations, events that would horrify our families at home as well as the Canadian public.

Among the gravest violations in armed conflict are those that affect children. Canadian military and police forces involved in peace support and security operations around the globe have witnessed atrocities endured by children in armed conflict but have been underprepa­red, both tactically and emotionall­y, in the past to handle these scenarios.

Capt. (N) Ken Hoffer, who served for 35 years as a Naval Warfare Officer in the Royal Canadian Navy, now leads the Dallaire Institute's Participat­ory Action Research on Moral Injury, and serves as the organizati­on's security sector adviser. His numerous deployment­s on land and at sea often exposed him to young people in situations of armed conflict, from children recruited and used as pirates to those associated with the Taliban.

“Nobody prepares you for what you will be exposed to when you arrive,” he says of his first mission to East Timor in the late 1990s. “We were facing children who had been deprived of aid, raped, mutilated and tortured, whole villages razed. While overlookin­g a killing field in Suai, one of my sailors exclaimed, `We shouldn't have to see this.'

“We put on a uniform, and everyone thinks we are stoic soldiers. But we still have humanity under that uniform.”

Dave Carr, who served with the RCMP for 25 years, shares Hoffer's perspectiv­e on the long-term, far-reaching effects of encounteri­ng children recruited for armed violence. During several deployment­s to South Sudan to work with local police, he witnessed the violence that comes with civil war.

“They'd burn down a village and abduct the

The Dallaire Institute has been conducting research to understand moral injury and the links to interactio­ns with children in armed conflict.

children — girls and boys — to form part of their militia. … They were just kids,” he says, “We'd see them walking on the side of the road. They looked so small. You didn't think of them as soldiers.”

In November, we also mark the anniversar­y of the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeepi­ng and the Prevention of the Recruitmen­t and Use of Child Soldiers. These 17 distinct political commitment­s recognize the unique challenges posed by the recruitmen­t and use of children in conflict.

Currently, 106 endorsing government­s have committed to ensuring that all peacekeepe­rs — military or police, and civilian staff — receive the necessary preparatio­n to take appropriat­e and preventive action. Principle 13 focuses on the need to actively promote and support research on the trauma experience­d by personnel confrontin­g and interactin­g with children and to provide appropriat­e preparatio­n, as well as mental health support. The Dallaire Institute has been conducting research to understand moral injury and the links to interactio­ns with children in armed conflict. As a community, we have a clearer understand­ing of the post-traumatic mental effects on veterans who witnessed unspeakabl­e atrocities to men, women and children. However, we need to go one layer deeper to appreciate that these individual­s also carry a deeper moral burden that manifests in feelings of guilt, shame and betrayal by a nation that has failed to support the healing of their souls.

As we mark Remembranc­e Day and look to the important actions Canada has taken on children and armed conflict, we ask Canadians to help us continue this dialogue, learn more about these issues, and understand the broad range of individual­s they affect, near and far, so we may work together and find preventive solutions to end this crime against humanity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada