4.8 Children in Armed Conflict and Peacebuilding Among the most urgent objectives for human security is the protection of war-affected children. In the past decade, almost two million children have been killed in armed conflict, more than four million disabled and more than one million orphaned. Over 10 million children have been psychologically scarred by the trauma of abduction, detention, sexual assault and the brutal murder of family members.
Their plight is a central concern for Canada =s foreign policy. For this reason, Canada played a leadership role in the negotiation and adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Right of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, Canada was the first country to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol in June and July 2000, respectively. In taking this initiative the federal government worked in consultation with the Department of National Defence to amend Section 34 of the National Defence Act (Bill S-18) to entrench into law the Canadian Forces= policy precluding persons under the age of 18 from deployment to hostile theatres of operations. Canada will continue to promote the Optional Protocol's wide ratification and implementation internationally, in order to expedite its rapid entry into force and to put a stop to the compulsory recruitment and deployment of child soldiers.
As part of these efforts, Canada hosted over 800 delegates at the first ever International Conference on War-Affected Children, in Winnipeg, from September 10 to 17, 2000. Youth participation was a key objective and success of this conference. The youth delegates began with their own closed sessions and then participated as full delegates in both the Expert and Ministerial level conference meetings. The Experts meeting, which brought together governments, NGOs, researchers, representatives of media and the private sector and youth, came up with a number of forward-looking recommendations for action by different actors in the international community. Key themes that emerged from the conference included: the importance of education in overcoming many of the challenges faced by war-affected children both in terms of rehabilitation as well as peacebuilding; conflict prevention; the relationship between HIV/AIDS, conflict and children; the need to end impunity and increase accountability; the resilience of youth and the important role that youth must play in reconstruction and peacebuilding. The Ministerial-level meeting attended by over 40 ministers and representatives from 132 governments, resulted in endorsement by governments of an international Agenda on War-Affected Children. A steering committee has been established to guide and monitor the follow-up to the international conference. In addition, the outcomes of the conference will contribute to the 2001 UN Special Session on Children.
In April 2000, Canada and Ghana co-hosted the Conference on War-Affected Children in West Africa, which demonstrated how key actors can commit to action across the range of problems faced by war-affected children. Through existing bilateral, regional and multilateral networks, Canada is an active player amongst a growing number of countries committed to war-affected children, and is working to mainstream this issue within the UN system, the OAS, the OSCE, the OAU, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Within regional organisations, Canada has been a strong advocate for the establishment of child protection focal points. Within the UN, Canada supports the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and United Nations agencies, in particular UNICEF and the UNHCR. In the Security Council, Canada has identified the issue of war-affected children as a key element in initiatives to promote the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, and has strongly supported Security Council initiatives to incorporate the needs of children into peace support operations and peacekeeping training.
Since 1995, the Canadian International Development Agency=s (CIDA) International Humanitarian Assistance has provided over $25 million for activities focused directly on children affected by armed conflict. Other projects have been carried out by CIDA's bilateral country programs in collaboration with Canadian-based NGOs and other organizations such as UNICEF and the Red Cross. Projects have also been funded through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives in collaboration with local NGOs. In addition, CIDA has supported the work of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, encouraging collaboration with other UN agencies and offices; has produced A Programming Framework for Children Affected by Armed Conflict, which provides guidance in program development; and has compiled A Survey of Canadian Programming Experience with Children Affected by Armed Conflict which profiles the experience of Canadian partners with children affected by conflict by sector (health, education, etc.) and geographic focus.
Canada, in cooperation with several other states and non-governmental organizations, played a leading role in initiating and bringing into force the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. Canada views the Convention as the most appropriate framework for addressing the global scourge of anti-personnel mines and in ensuring the eventual elimination of this indiscriminate weapon. Canada was the first country to sign and ratify this Convention in December 1997.
The Anti-Personnel Mines Convention Implementation Act -- the legislation implementing the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction -- received Royal Assent on November 27, 1997. The Act prohibits the development, production, acquisition, possession, transfer, stockpiling and placement of anti-personnel mines and requires the Government of Canada to destroy anti-personnel mines stockpiled by Canada (although the destruction of stockpiles was completed prior to the Act being approved by Parliament).
In 1998, Canada established a five-year fund to support programming consistent with the aims of the Convention. To date, Canada has disbursed millions of dollars from this fund to support mine clearance and related survey activities, victim assistance and mine awareness programs in every mine-affected region in the world. In addition, Canada has provided funding to the international non-governmental community to support sustainable activity leading to the eventual universalization of the new international norm suggested by the Convention.