NATO Policy on Children and Armed Conflict
- NATO is committed to defending and promoting the principles of individual liberty, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Gender equality and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda are integral to sustainable peace, and are a reflection of our core values and priorities. NATO remains firmly committed to the North Atlantic Treaty and the Charter of the United Nations (UN).
- As such, NATO’s recently adopted Human Security Approach and Guiding Principles1, which is to be integrated across all core tasks, provides a heightened understanding of conflict and crisis. A human security approach2 allows a more comprehensive view of the human environment, consequently enhancing operational effectiveness and contributing to lasting peace and security.
- NATO’s approach to protecting children in armed conflict is based on legal, moral and political imperatives and contributes to the operational success, credibility and legitimacy of NATO’s missions, operations and activities.
- Grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children in armed conflict3 are a global phenomenon with demonstrated implications for international peace and security. They can amount to serious violations of international law, including International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL), as applicable. These violations and abuses can resonate in a negative way on the full enjoyment by children of their rights in the immediate to long term and adversely impact an entire generation. Certain violations can amount to crimes under International Criminal Law.
- In the current security environment, civilians, including children, are being targeted in armed conflict by state and non-state actors, including terrorist organisations, and their safety and security is being leveraged to serve military objectives; this has become even more apparent with Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
- The protection of children during armed conflict in NATO’s missions, operations and activities was first addressed by Heads of State and Government at the 2012 Chicago Summit4 where NATO was tasked to develop practical, field-oriented measures to address the growing range of violations against children during armed conflicts. As a result, NATO adopted its Military Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC)5 later that year, outlining specific guidelines to properly integrate United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1612 and related resolutions6 into Alliance military doctrine, training and operational planning and conduct.
- On this basis, NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and later Resolute Support Mission (RSM) assisted Afghan National Security Forces, alongside UN and other Government ministries and non-governmental organization (NGO) child protection actors in Afghanistan, to address unlawful recruitment, other grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children. The first CAAC Advisor was deployed to the RSM Command Group in 2016.
- In 2012, the Alliance established the title of NATO’s Senior Focal Point for Children and Armed Conflict. The title, initially given to NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Operations, was transferred to the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security (SGSR for WPS) in 2016.
- As part of the 2014 Wales Summit7, Heads of State and Government reinforced their commitment to the protection of children during armed conflict and committed to fully integrate CAAC considerations into the planning and conduct of NATO’s missions, operations and activities as well as training, monitoring and reporting. As a response, the document “Protection of Children in Armed Conflict – Way Forward”, including a review of best practices initiated by NATO over the years, was developed in close cooperation with the UN and other partners and approved by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) in March 20158. CAAC is a theme covered under the 2018 updated Joint NATO-UN Declaration on Cooperation.
Aim and Scope
- This Policy aims to provide a coherent, consistent and integrated political framework for NATO’s efforts in preventing, monitoring, reporting and responding to grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children by all relevant actors in the context of all NATO missions, operations and activities.
- This Policy takes stock of lessons learned and best practices from the implementation of the 2015 NATO document “Protection of Children in Armed Conflict – Way Forward”.
- This Policy seeks to align NATO’s political and operational considerations with advances in international best practices and guidance as well as progress in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) related to CAAC, in UNSC-mandated action plans to prevent, halt, and respond to grave violations against children in armed conflict, as appropriate; providing NATO personnel with a framework to strengthen compliance with international law and to better protect children in its missions, operations and activities.
- This Policy applies to all NATO personnel in all phases of Alliance operations, missions and activities, wherever NATO operates, from peacetime to crisis and conflict, including stabilisation and post-conflict. It should be considered within the broader framework of policies and guidance within NATO, including the wider Human Security Approach and Guiding Principles, and in support of NATO’s three core tasks.
- This Policy makes particular reference to differing gendered impacts of grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children in prevention, monitoring, reporting and response actions.
- Child: For the purposes of this Policy, and in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child9, a child is any human being below the age of 18 years.
- Grave Violations against Children in Armed Conflict (Grave Violations): As identified by the UN Secretary General, the six grave violations include violations of applicable international law involving: the recruitment and use of children; killing and maiming of children; sexual violence against children; attacks against schools and hospitals; abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access to children. The UNSC has also referred to these acts in various resolutions addressing CAAC10.
Preventing Violations against Children in Armed Conflict
- NATO forces will respect applicable legal frameworks and will avoid violating children’s rights while conducting operations, missions and activities.
- NATO will work to raise awareness and strengthen in-house expertise to prevent, identify and respond to grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children in armed conflict by all relevant actors, including through, as appropriate, preventive postures in own-actions, targeted monitoring, reporting and information exchange in operations and ensuring that NATO is aware of and can identify appropriate referral pathways with child protection actors.
- NATO will identify risks to children in relation to NATO’s missions, operations and activities through a CAAC Risk Assessment, assisted by internal or external expertise, using appropriate analytical and reporting tools to understand the level of and mitigate risk and, where appropriate, using prevention measures throughout and as part of the mission cycle.
- Based on the above-mentioned CAAC Risk Assessment, a clear mandate on CAAC should be provided by the NAC. Furthermore, NATO will include specific guidance to its forces on preventing and responding to grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children in armed conflict or in the immediate post conflict environment by all relevant actors.
- Striving to achieve best practices and child protection principles is important to NATO’s efforts, in line with its values, to ensure full respect for the rights of children in peace, conflict and post-conflict environments. NATO will seek to integrate good practices and child protection principles into its training and operational considerations with an emphasis on practical protection measures. In integrating these practices and child protection principles, NATO will consider the best practices of all Allies, and will take note, as appropriate of international and regional initiatives on CAAC, including as applicable, the Paris Principles and Commitments on Children Associated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups; the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers; and the Safe Schools Declaration and associated Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, while noting that these are non-legally binding documents to which some Allies and Partners have committed. The integration of these practices and child protection principles will take into consideration, as appropriate, the differing socio-economic and gendered impacts on and roles of children in conflict.
- NATO will seek to adopt the highest standards in protecting schools, students, teachers and other important elements of educational processes in its missions, operations and activities, acting in a manner consistent with IHL and in line with international good practices. In doing so, NATO will consider the best practices of all Allies, and will take note, as appropriate, of international and regional initiatives on CAAC, including, as applicable, the Safe Schools Declaration and its associated Guidelines as referenced in paragraph 21.
- NATO forces will ensure that they do not create any real or perceived demand for children’s forced labour or sexual exploitation as reflected in NATO’s Code of Conduct and Policy on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse11 its Policy on Preventing and Responding to Conflict-related Sexual Violence12 and its Policy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings13.
- NATO will continue to engage with the UN Secretary General and the Special Representative for CAAC, UN agencies, funds and programs and other relevant international organizations, NGOs, think tanks, civil society, at-risk populations and other relevant actors including coordination with host nations as appropriate, throughout the mission or operation cycle to identify and analyze possible threats14. This will inform preventative measures to be considered by NATO.
Responding to Violations against Children in Armed Conflict
- NATO will adjust its civilian harm mitigation efforts to include specific guidance on prevention/ reduction/ response to child casualties in its missions, operations and activities, as appropriate, and based upon lessons learned in line with NATO’s Protection of Civilians Policy15 and in line with this Policy.
- In view of relevant UNSCRs, and in line with the Principles on the Association of Children with Armed Forces and Armed Groups, children associated with armed forces or armed groups16, including terrorist organisations, who have been recruited in violation of applicable international law and come into temporary custody or are otherwise handed over to NATO operational forces, should be considered primarily as victims of violations of international law and, even if not deemed appropriate for immediate release and reintegration, should be treated in a gender-responsive, age-sensitive, victim-centred and trauma-informed manner and in conformity with international law, including IHL and IHRL, as applicable.
- An operation/mission/activity-specific hand-over protocol should be promulgated, where adversaries or other relevant non-NATO armed forces or armed groups parties to conflict are known to commit violations of applicable international law involving the recruitment and/or use of children, including as combatants and/or in support roles. In situations of transfer, NATO should confirm that any receiving authority will treat them consistent with applicable international law, including with respect to applicable procedural protections and humane treatment.
Reporting and Information Sharing
- All personnel in NATO’s missions, operations and activities must report any incidents of observed or suspected grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children in accordance with established reporting mechanisms, through the NATO chain of command, including with gender, age, and, if possible, any other disaggregated data.
- NATO commanders will report through the chain of command to NATO Headquarters in a timely manner on instances of suspected grave violations and or other serious violations and or abuses against children and actions taken.
- NATO will pursue two-way staff level engagement on CAAC-related issues with relevant actors, such as the UN, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the African Union, host nations, partners and civil society, as appropriate.
- Where UNSCR 1612 Group of Friends has been constituted in mission or operational areas, appropriate information exchange on CAAC should be pursued as a priority17.
- Information exchange on individual cases of suspected grave violations and other serious violations or abuses should protect child victims from public curiosity. All personnel deployed to NATO operations, missions and activities will refrain from releasing images of such children to the public in order to protect their privacy and dignity, and recognizing, inter alia, the need to safeguard children from perpetrators who might perceive them as informants and target them as a result.
Education and Training
- All personnel deployed to NATO operations, missions and activities will receive information, guidance and mandatory training on NATO’s role in identifying, preventing and responding to CAAC, either prior to deployment, or as part of theatre in-processing. This training should cover, inter alia, identifying, preventing and responding to grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children by all relevant actors in the context of conflict or in immediate post-conflict settings, including the age and gendered aspects of the violations or abuses, as well as how to monitor and report effectively through the chain of command. Education and training for troop contributing countries should include minimum standards.
- NATO will seek to include CAAC issues in all relevant exercises, as appropriate. A broad range of child protection organizations with specific expertise on these issues could be included in such exercises on a case-by-case basis.
- When invited to train security forces from a Host or Partner nation as part of an agreed mandate, NATO will be prepared to provide training on and awareness of the six grave violations and other serious violations or abuses against children in armed conflict in accordance with this Policy and developed training programs. Such training should take note of best practices.
- PO(2022)0429 (INV), Human Security Approach and Guiding Principles
- The five areas listed under the NATO Human Security Approach are: Protection of Civilians; Preventing and Responding to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence; Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings; Children and Armed Conflict; and Cultural Property Protection
- While the six grave violations, as defined in paragraph 16 of this Policy, provide a primary focus, they do not exclude monitoring, reporting on, and responding to other serious violations and abuses committed against children as relevant in the context of specific NATO operations, missions and activities.
- Chicago Summit Declaration 2012, para. 17
- MCM-0016-2012, Children And Armed Conflict (CAAC), 10 July 2012
- United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1261 (1999); 1314 (2000); 1379 (2001); 1460 (2003); 1539 (2004); 1612 (2005); 1882 (2009); 1998 (2012); 2068 (2012); 2225(2015); 2427 (2018); 2601 (2021)
- Wales Summit Declaration 2014, para. 91
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child article 1
- United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1261 (1999); 1314 (2000); 1379 (2001); 1460(2003); 1539 (2004); 1612 (2005); 1882 (2009); 1998 (2012); 2068 (2012); 2225 (2015); 2427 (2018); 2601 (2021)
- PO(2019)0459 (INV)
- PO(2023)0232 (INV)
- All in accordance with the 2022 Strategic Concept, the Comprehensive Approach Action Plan (CM(2008)0029-COR1, PO(2010)0143-Final and PO(2011)0045-Updated List of Tasks for the Implementation of the Comprehensive Approach Action Plan) and relevant decisions, including those taken at the Lisbon, Wales, Warsaw, Brussels and Madrid Summits.
- PO(2016)0407 (INV) Final Approval of the NATO Policy for the Protection of Civilians
- Children associated with armed forces and armed groups in armed conflict refers to children recruited or used by an armed force or armed groups in any capacity, including but not limited to girls and boys used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities (Ref. para 2.1 Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups (2002).
- In line with extant NATO policies and procedures [inter alia C-M(2002)49-REV1, C-M(2002)60] as well as security agreements in accordance with AC/35-N(2013)0011-REV2-COR1