Investigating crimes affecting children in conflict zones is challenging and often conducted in complex environments. The scale of the issue is immense. In 2022, the United Nations reported over 27,000 gross violations of children’s rights. Too often, investigations have overlooked the experience and perspective of children. This happens for a number of reasons:
- Children are often not seen as equal citizens: as they are not generally key political or economic actors, human rights violations affecting them
- Child invisibility: while adult men and women can self-mobilize and make their voices heard, children often do not have the same agency.
Child rights must instead be placed front and centre of investigations. The specific vulnerabilities of children require specialized expertise to ensure that violations affecting them do not go unaddressed. Impunity for crimes affecting children has long-lasting consequences on the well-being of children and their access to justice and remedies, including because:
- Child demographics: children often constitute a large proportion of the population in conflict contexts.
- Crimes affecting children have long-lasting impact: child killings, maiming, sexual violence – including forced marriage and pregnancy – displacement, loss of schooling, lack of access to health care and food deprivation are among such crimes and their consequences.
- Children are often targets: they may actually be subjected to specific violations due to their young age, such as in the case of child soldier recruitment or the use of sexual violence against them.
- Investing in justice and reconciliation for children is investing in peace: without accountability and viable social and economic support, children affected by conflicts and human rights violations are likely to be drawn into new cycles of conflict, perpetuating recurring violence.
Drawing on dedicated funding, Justice Rapid Response prioritizes the deployment of child rights expertise in a wide range of engagements. The inclusion of child rights experts can be a game-changer for impunity when investigating crimes affecting children. It affords child rights violations a higher visibility compared to mechanisms that do not benefit from this approach and support.
Child rights experts can transfer skills and knowledge, as well as change attitudes. They do this by developing investigation plans, field missions, interview preparation and collaborative analysis that take into account a child rights perspective. Justice Rapid Response recommends that child rights experts be included from the outset of any mechanism involved in the investigation of international crimes.
Justice Rapid Response deploys child rights experts to investigate crimes against children committed in the world’s most violent conflicts, including those in Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, and Syria. Since 2015, Justice Rapid Response has steadily increased deployments of child rights experts specialized in investigating child rights crimes.
Children often experience conflict in different ways to adults, which means their rights and experiences deserve special attention from investigators: