Military operation in Mali: the protection of children at the heart of concerns
By Hector Calderon & Ismail Maiga
Koulikouro, 13 may 2013 – Hundreds of miles away from the fighting zone, 450 Malian soldiers, members of the Battle Group “Inter Armes” (GTIA) received a two day training on May 11, 2013 that included a half-day session on the protection of children rights during conflict.
UNICEF and its partners including the European Union, OCHA, UNFPA, OHCHR, UNHCR and civil society in the framework of EUTM Trainings provided a two day session to 450 military personnel to raise awareness on international humanitarian law, including a half a day session on the protection of children’s rights during conflict.
The Training started with a reference to the Government of Mali Inter Circular note on children rights during conflicts issued on February 7, 2013, that highlights the prevention, protection and return to their family of children associated with armed group and forces.
The session on the protection of children conducted by UNICEF a first in Mali, served as a proof of the good synergy between the different stakeholders in the process and their agreement to make the provisions more accessible to all.
Trainers from the United Nations system highlighted the negative consequences conflicts have on the lives of children, barriers to access to humanitarian aid and the need to provide special assistance to children in order avoid their enrollment, recruitment or use as soldiers and sexual slaves or workers.
Amongst the soldiers present at the training, Adama sangare, a 47 year old veteran father of 3 children was present. This graying hair, athletic built and martial art trained veteran remembers full with emotion the abuses committed during the war in Central Africa in the 1990s. Been part of the (MISAB), he stressed the importance of this training.
“This Training offers the opportunity to young Malian soldiers to understand and respect humanitarian action, including respect for the rights of children. It is our responsibility as the guarantors of law and order to ensure we protect our communities, including those most vulnerable, women and children,” Sangare remained his younger counterparts during his intervention at the training.
The utilization of children, boys and girls under the age of 18 by armed and group forces is prohibited by law and persecuted by the Criminal Court, and the usage of children under the age of 13 is a crime against humanity.
“In 1997, the city of Bangui was cut in half by conflict. Women were the most vulnerable and affected by the horrors of the war, they were victims of rape and sexual abuse from both rebels and those supposed to protect them, said Sangare as he remembered his time of service in Central Africa Republic.
The Head of MISAB Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré present at the training continuously reminded his men to stay true ambassadors MISAB mission and to their respective countries. The armed forces have a duty to monitor and disseminate information on violations against children in situations of armed conflict, and to refer cases to the actors in the protection of the child.
“As a man with an army career”, concludes Sangare, “Malian army must respect the codes of conduct, ethical rules and international standards on the protection of children in situations of armed conflict.
Additional training of liaison military personnel of the newly present MINUSMA will to take place with UNICEF’s participation in Mopti and Timbuktu on May 20, and 22 respectively. The 24 liaison military trained personal will then train military personnel present in the conflict zones.
UNICEF is committed to child protection programs, including trainings of both military and civilians in order to ensure the full protection of children’s rights.