The International United Nations Watch (IUNW) organized a seminar on 18 October, 2019 at Copenhagen University on the topic of “Child Soldiers and the Role of the UN.” The seminar was organized in partnership with the organization Netværket for Akademikere, Studerende og Interesserede i Mellemøsten, “The Network for Academics, Students and Interested in the Middle East,” (NASIM). The event was moderated by Muhammed Shehada, journalist specialized in the Middle East, and panelists featured Duha Bedeir, PhD at Aarhus University; Sarina Klauman Kroyer, human rights activist; and Maya Garner, spokesperson for IUNW.
Bedeir gave an overview of the child soldiers, stating the definition of a child soldier as someone under the age of 18 who is used for military purposes, and she described the prevalence of child soldiers also being used for non-fighting positions in the military, such as cooks, messengers, and informants. She mentioned how some, especially girls, are also recruited for sexual purposes. Bedeir focused on the presence of child soldiers in Libya, stating the coercive measures that lead them to being recruited and called on the UN to ensure that children do not become the objects of military recruits to serve the political interests of warlords.
Kroyer focused on the repercussions of children recruited as soldiers, particularly the resulting mental health issues that create circles of violence and social malfunction, in addition to persistent suffering from PTSD. She highlighted the consequences of the individual child and laid out the difficulties of reintegrating these children into society and the types of resocialization projects that have led to positive improvements.
Garner discussed the implications of international law and related the issue of child soldiers to larger international forces at play. She criticized the decision of U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo to exclude Saudi Arabia on the list of countries making use of child soldiers, although the Saudi-led coalition was found to employ Sudanese mercenaries to fight the war in Yemen, out of which many units contained child soldiers. With the U.S. being the largest arms exporter to Saudi Arabia, Garner raised concern of the U.S. government prioritizing its economic interests over human rights. Garner also highlighted the practices of private military companies in hiring former child soldiers to provide cheap military labor in international wars. “This privatization of warfare essentially deals with people as commodities,” she stated, adding that “this is completely detrimental to the goal of reintegrating former them into society and of trying to undo the wrongs that have been committed.” She called on the UN to “treat this tragic issue in its full and also address the larger damaging processes of the profiteering and privatization of war.”
Questions from the audience included questions about the use of child soldiers in the Kurdistan region of Syria as well as proposals for social projects to decrease the psychological trauma, and to inquire about structural weaknesses and limitations within the United Nations’ various bodies.