Protection of children in armed conflict
Children are affected by armed conflict in many different ways. They are killed and maimed, recruited or used as soldiers, sexually exploited, abducted, their schools and hospitals are attacked and their access to humanitarian services is denied. NATO recognises that protecting children from the effects of armed conflict is both a moral imperative and an essential element to break the cycle of violence. NATO is taking steps, as part of the wider international community, to confront this issue.
- NATO developed a policy entitled ‘Protection of Children in Armed Conflict – the Way Forward’ in close cooperation with the United Nations (UN).
- This policy provides clear guidance to further integrate UN Security Council Resolution 1612 and related resolutions into the Alliance’s military doctrine, education, training and exercises, as well as NATO-led operations and missions.
- The Alliance has a Senior NATO Focal Point for Children and Armed Conflict and has appointed Focal Points throughout the NATO Command Structure.
- In Afghanistan, NATO’s Resolute Support Mission actively supports the UN and the international community’s efforts to protect children from the effects of armed conflict.
- A Senior Children and Armed Conflict Adviser was deployed in April 2016 - the first time in a NATO-led mission - as part of Resolute Support Mission.
More background information
The protection of children in armed conflict in NATO-led operations and missions was first addressed by NATO leaders at the 2012 Chicago Summit, where NATO decided to develop practical, field-oriented measures to address violations against children during armed conflict.
As a result, NATO adopted its first Military Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict later that year, outlining a broad framework to integrate UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1612 and related resolutions into operational activities and into education and training. Soon afterwards, the North Atlantic Council appointed the Assistant Secretary General for Operations within NATO’s International Staff as the Senior NATO Focal Point for Children and Armed Conflict. This person is in charge of maintaining a close dialogue with the UN on this topic.
NATO has also produced an e-learning module on child protection aimed at deployed troops. Developed in cooperation with the UN in 2013, this online tool is available to all Allies and partner countries and provides an overview of the six grave violations against children identified by the UN Secretary-General and the relevant legal frameworks for the protection of children in armed conflict.
At the Wales Summit in 2014, NATO leaders decided that the Alliance would ensure it is sufficiently prepared whenever and wherever children in armed conflict are encountered. In response, and in close cooperation with the UN, NATO developed the policy document ‘Protection of Children in Armed Conflict – the Way Forward’. Agreed by the North Atlantic Council in March 2015, the policy provides additional guidance to further integrate UNSCR 1612 and related resolutions into the Alliance’s military doctrine, education, training and exercises, as well as NATO-led operations and missions.
Its main priorities include:
- Supporting UN efforts to monitor instances of grave violations committed against children affected by armed conflict.
- When participating in NATO-led operations or missions, military leadership and personnel are trained to recognise and respond to possible grave violations identified by the UN Secretary-General.
- When training local forces, NATO ensures that the protection of children affected by armed conflict is given the right attention; NATO also promotes adequate reporting and monitoring mechanisms focusing on the six grave violations.
- The development of standard operating procedures for reporting violations.
Standard procedures for monitoring and reporting on the six grave violations in NATO-led missions and operations have been developed in consultation with relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and information officers. In Afghanistan, the existing reporting system is being updated to improve information-sharing with the UN.
Children and Armed Conflict is being incorporated into NATO’s military exercise scenarios. This means that NATO commanders receive training to respond to situations where the six grave violations committed against children are encountered.
Focal Points for Children and Armed Conflict have been appointed throughout the NATO Command Structure. They support the integration of the Military Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict into training opportunities, exercises and mission planning.
In cooperation with relevant NGOs and international organisations, Focal Points are trained on child protection, human rights – including children’s rights – and have knowledge of UNSCR 1612 and related resolutions.
In Afghanistan, NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, which aims to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), actively supports the UN and the international community’s efforts to address the issue of the protection of children.
Resolute Support has recently reviewed its training on Children and Armed Conflict to ensure that the ANDSF are aware of their obligations to protect children. To this purpose and for the first time, a specialised Children and Armed Conflict Adviser was deployed in April 2016 in a NATO-led mission. NATO officials continue to use opportunities to raise the issue of protecting children in their political and military engagements with senior Afghan officials.