RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) organized a virtual panel discussion titled “Child Soldiers are Victims, Not Soldiers” on Thursday, aiming to mobilize global efforts to combat exploitation of children in conflict situations.
“The recruitment of children is becoming a big challenge for the international community, and is affecting children not only in conflict zones but beyond,” said Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, the center’s supervisor general.
“This issue cannot be handled by one organization; it is the duty of the whole international community, including the UN and its agencies,” he added.
The center hopes, with the help of engaged partners, to offer sustainable solutions to bring this dangerous phenomenon to an end.
Al-Rabeeah said that the international community should “revisit what it does for refugees and displaced persons,” adding: “They need to work carefully and intelligently to change the cultural misconceptions about the mistreatment and exploitation of children in refugee camps.”
Virginia Gamba, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said: “We have a joint responsibility to protect children from hostilities so they can become positive agents of change in the future, and this starts by working together to build a more peaceful present now. Reintegration has never been more important.”
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, said in a video message that this approach is in line with the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers observed on Feb. 12.
“We want to end the recruiting of children for conflicts, and call for more investment to support children and disengage them from conflicts,” she added.
Dr. Abdulmajeed Al-Banyan, president of Naif Arab University for Security Sciences, said there is a need to understand how children can be lured into conflict as victims. “We need to address it with a holistic approach.”
Diene Keita, executive director for programs at the UN Population Fund deputy, said denial of dignity is one reason children are forced into conflict.
The speakers agreed that the use of language is crucial in this fight and the word “child soldiers” should not be used since they are “victims”, not soldiers, and are trapped in conflicts because of economic reasons, food insecurity and health problems.
Al-Rabeeah said that KSrelief is willing to provide a platform for the children, in partnership with the UN, to protect them from conflicts.
The second session was aimed at strengthening cooperation between interested and working parties to protect children from recruitment, and rehabilitate former victims.
Participants discussed major challenges and reviewed best practices to generate practical recommendations that will contribute to the development of future humanitarian action to eliminate child recruitment.
Dr. Hind Al-Khalifa, a member of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, said that the Kingdom has signed a protocol to protect children. “It is important for children to know that we are there with them for their protection.”