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For centuries Children have been involved in, or have been affected by, armed conflict. Either through their recruitment, use in hostilities, or as innocent bystanders. 

The UN’s Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, which was established on the back of the Graça Machel Report in 1996, is the UN body responsible for monitoring the impact of the armed conflict on children. 

In addition to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which came into force in 2002 and was intended to protect children from recruitment and use in hostilities, various UN Security Council resolutions over the last 10 years have established a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the recruitment and use of children and other violations against children in armed conflict. The Office of the Special Representative now has a framework of six ‘grave violations’ which are monitored and reported on, annually:

  1. Recruitment and use of children; 
  2. Killing and maiming of children; 
  3. Sexual violence against children;
  4. Attacks on schools and hospitals;
  5. Abduction of children; (the most recent trigger to be added in 2015)
  6. Denial of humanitarian access.

In the last few years an increasing attention has also been given to the recruitment and use of children by terrorist groups such as ISIS/Daesh. 

The UK is often criticised for its recruitment of under 18s into the armed forces. However, the Government has stated that MOD policy is in strict adherence to the UK’s international commitments, including the UN Conventions and protocols. While the minimum age of enlistment is 16, no one under 18 can enlist without parental consent, nor can they be deployed on operations outside of the UK, except where the operation does not involve personnel becoming engaged in, or exposed to, hostilities. In line with current UN policy, Service personnel under the age of 18 are also not deployed on UN peacekeeping operations. Age restrictions also apply to service in Northern Ireland.

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