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Protecting children in conflict: in conversation with Dr Remember Miamingi
16 Jun 2022
Think Piece
Child protection has long been a missing cornerstone in preventing conflict and sustaining peace. Two recently adopted AU policies signal new hope.


While some conflicts across the African continent are dynamic and evolve in unpredictable ways, states like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have experienced protracted crises. A common element to all conflicts, regardless of the country or context, is the disproportionate suffering experienced by children – the most vulnerable members of society.

Conflict has severe effects on children’s health, development and wellbeing. These occur in direct and indirect ways, and include experiences such as abandonment and separation from their families, interruptions in formal education, being orphaned by conflict, abduction, and forced recruitment as child soldiers. The extent of these effects is staggering. Save the Children estimates that one in four children across Africa live in a conflict zone. The organization also reports that more than a third of all conflicts involve sexual violence against children, and that in 2018 alone, nearly 1 500 children were maimed by armed forces in six African countries.

These deleterious impacts are difficult to quantify and even harder to address. They merit constant, urgent action. At the same time, actors must also consider the complex interplay between children’s experiences during such crises, and how these can shape prospects for lasting peace.

Dr Remember Miamingi is the former Child Protection Adviser to the Political Affairs, Peace and Security Department of the African Union (AU). He explains that what happens to children before, during and after conflict can directly impact the sustainability of efforts to promote peace. ‘When exposed to the negative and terrible effects and impacts of conflict, children end up transmitting that trauma, aggression and cultural distortion to the next generation.’ He adds that in cases where children are ‘radicalised, weaponised and instrumentalised’ as active participants, this fundamentally changes the nature of the conflict – and further complicates efforts to manage and resolve it.

But there is another side to the coin. ‘When children are protected from the evils of war, are prevented from taking part in war and, for instance, have the opportunity to go to school, there is an opportunity to cultivate a culture of peace. When the conflict is resolved, these children become vectors of peaceful coexistence. This contributes to transitional justice processes, and ensures that our post-conflict reconstruction efforts have ownership in the country.’

The AU is committed to resolving conflict on the continent in a sustainable way, and recognises that the protection of children amid armed conflict is key if efforts to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict are to be successful and lasting. ‘If you do not intervene and protect children amid conflict, they become the “down payment” for tomorrow's conflict. And so protecting children in a context of conflict is an integral component of the strategy to prevent conflict,’ explains Dr Miamingi.

Over the past 20 years, the AU has played an increasingly active role in engaging with and responding to potential, active and post-conflict situations, particularly since the Peace and Security Council (PSC) became operational in 2004. The deployment of peace support operations (PSOs) is one of the main pillars of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) to address situations of conflict on the continent. Until fairly recently, however, there was no guiding framework for the protection of children in these contexts. This was recognised as a critical gap, and the AU Assembly requested the AU Commission (AUC) to draft a comprehensive child protection policy for AU PSOs.

Whether we’re dealing with conflict prevention, conflict management, or conflict-resolution tools, child protection should be mainstreamed

‘The AU realised that the best way to better ensure that our missions are child friendly and child sensitive was to ensure that we integrate, and when necessary, mainstream the protection of children in the APSA. Whether we’re dealing with conflict prevention, conflict management, or conflict-resolution tools, child protection should be mainstreamed across the entire conflict cycle.’

As a result, the AU Assembly requested the development of a policy for mainstreaming child protection across the entire AU conflict-management cycle, and also to ensure that the pillars of the APSA integrated child protection issues. A second request was for the development of a comprehensive child protection policy to guide the planning, deployment and management of peace operations.

‘So we had two requests from our highest policy-making organ, but we did not have the necessary resources to implement it. We were so grateful when Training for Peace [TfP] offered to support the AU to respond to these requests from our Assembly,’ says Dr Miamingi.

responded positively to the request for the development of a ‘comprehensive policy on child protection in AU peace support operations.’ The TfP supported the development of three main outputs under this activity. First was a scoping study that shed light on the policy-related needs for child protection in AU PSOs; next was the formulation of the draft policies; and third was a report on the cost implications of implementing the policy in AU PSOs.

On 12th May 2022, the 14th Ordinary Meeting of The Specialised Technical Committee On Defence, Safety And Security adopted the draft policy on Child Protection in AU PSOs and the Policy on Mainstreaming Child Protection into APSA.

‘I'm hoping that through the implementation of these policies, the AU will be able to ensure that our children’s childhoods will not be stolen from them by war; that we have children, who become messengers of peace and peaceful coexistence,’ says Dr Miamingi. ‘Our children should grow up in peace, and survive, thrive and compete with other children around the world to build a common future for all of us. Those are my expectations.

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