Today, prioritize children’s protection
SHELLY WHITMAN CONTRIBUTOR DR. SHELLY WHITMAN IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE DALLAIRE INSTITUTE FOR CHILDREN, PEACE AND SECURITY.
As Canada joins the rest of the world in commemorating Universal Children’s Day on Monday, we cannot ignore that this year’s anniversary is being observed amid reports of atrocities against children in conflicts worldwide. Nor can we set aside calls for a different approach to peace or concerns about the long-term repercussions of generational conflicts on global security. As a signatory, and a key promoter of critical child protection instruments, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), Canada does not have the option of remaining neutral when atrocities are committed against children. As Canadians we have an obligation to stand up for the rights of children in all conflicts, and our commitment to the principles we have proclaimed is being tested publicly. Viewing the events that have unfolded in Gaza and Israel since Oct. 7 through a child-centred lens highlights the horrific atrocities committed against children by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups. This includes the brutal killing of Israeli children during the October attack by Hamas-led fighters (and the use of children as hostages) and the high death rates of Palestinian children in Gaza — a crisis that led to UN Secretary General António Guterres’ assertion that Gaza is becoming a “graveyard for children.” The killing and maiming of children, abduction of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access are all grave violations against children in armed conflict, according to the UN Security Council resolution 1612 and subsequent resolutions on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC). Research indicates that there is more cause for concern. Some of the greatest predictors of future recruitment and use of children include violence against civilians, especially if committed by state armed groups; the infliction of grave violations against children; the use or targeting of schools and other disruptions to education; the presence of migrant or unaccompanied children and revenge discourse. As the executive director of an organization dedicated to preventing the recruitment and use of children in armed violence, the presence of all these predictors of future recruitment in the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza fills me with a sense of foreboding. I ask Canada, and the rest of the world to consider the implications of a response that has not prioritized ending violations against children but instead feeds cycles of hatred and violence for generations to come. The voices of peacemakers must be amplified; in this moment we are hearing far too many people defend the rationales for violations against children. Too many people are feeding narratives that finger point and not enough people are willing to create tangible solutions or examine different perspectives to stop these atrocities. No one is willing to surrender … not even for the sake of thousands of children. Wars such as the one in Israel and Gaza are the perfect brew for not only creating more recruits for groups like Hamas but also for the others watching from thousands of miles away — from ISIS to Boko Haram and al-Shabab. Our indifference, our poorly framed statements based on selfpreservation and our inability to hold perpetrators accountable for violations against such innocent civilians, especially children — will only feed insecurity globally. There are more children living in situations of armed conflict today than in the past 20 years and what we are witnessing now will only see this increase for 2024. As we commemorate the adoption of the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child this year, it is time for a new approach to peace, a new approach to security, and children must be at the heart of those solutions — not simply as rights bearers but as the solutions to a better humanity.