In The Media

Canadian military addresses issue of child soldiers in published directive

by Steven Chase (feat. David Perry)

The Globe and Mail
March 2, 2017

The Canadian military has published a new doctrine to address how troops should deal with child soldiers – with a sobering message for combatants – that comes just as the Trudeau government is weighing a peacekeeping mission to Africa that could very well include clashes with underage fighters.

The “joint doctrine note” on child soldiers is the first time the Canadian military has produced a directive that specifically provides strategic direction regarding child soldiers. The use of underage combatants is endemic throughout conflicts in Africa.

It warns of major psychological trauma that could affect Canadians after firefights with child soldiers. “Encounters with child soldiers during operations can have significant psychological impacts for the personnel involved, particularly if those encounters involve engaging armed children,” the Canadian Forces doctrine says.

The document also serves as a wake-up call for the Canadian public on what to expect should the Liberal government deploy soldiers to a peacekeeping mission in locations such as Mali in Africa. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to make up to 600 troops available for United Nations peacekeeping missions.

“Child soldiers … are likely to be encountered on an increasing basis,” the doctrine says. The new directive is intended to help “should the Canadian Armed Forces become increasingly involved in UN- or NATO-led conflict prevention or peace-support operations.”

The directive also warns soldiers against letting children into their military base or camp and cautions that forces may have to bulk up their protection in conflict zones. “A force consisting of only lightly armed and equipped personnel may be much more vulnerable to attacks from child soldier units (such as human wave attacks); therefore consideration should be given to the provision of heavier weapons.”

It also cautions that the Canadian public could easily sour on a mission where soldiers end up in conflicts against children. If an engagement with child soldiers “is not well-handled, and communicated effectively, there is strong potential for significant negative impact on the mission, locally, in Canada, and at the international level.”

The doctrine also highlights how child soldiers taken prisoner should be handled differently from adult combatants, noting international guidelines place a “greater focus on rehabilitation” and stipulate “they should be rapidly separated from adult fighters and handed over to an appropriate, mandated civilian process.”

Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, said it’s good to see the Canadian military releasing rules that mandate soldiers must be trained to handle encounters with child soldiers.

She said that, in African countries such as Mali, children are used in a variety of roles from front-line fighters to sexual slaves, to labourers or “other lethal roles such as suicide bombing.” She said Mali is one of the biggest violators when it comes to using underage combatants. “It’s one of the countries where you have both state and non-state armed actors using children.”

Ms. Whitman recalls a few years ago in the Central African Republic that South African soldiers on the battlefield “were not at all prepared for the fact they were facing a field full of children.” They lost 16 soldiers “because they were not mentally prepared for that.”

Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, said this new doctrine should not be construed as an acknowledgment that Canada will deploy troops to Mali. “The Canadian Armed Forces continually revise and update doctrinal documents in order to ensure operational effectiveness and relevance.”

Defence analyst David Perry said he does not believe the Canadian public is yet prepared for the realities of 21st-century peacekeeping, where the operating environments are far more dangerous and chaotic than 20th-century missions were – and child soldiers are among the new challenges.

“I think when most people think of peacekeeping, they still reflexively go back to things such as Cyprus,” said Mr. Perry, a senior fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, referring to a UN-led mission that began in 1964 where foreign soldiers are enforcing a static buffer zone and they are only lightly armed and “people want us there.”

Mali has become the deadliest place to serve for UN troops. According to the UN, more than 100 peacekeepers have been killed since the UN deployed there in April, 2013.

In Victoria on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau answered a question on whether the Liberals will send troops to Mali by saying he and Mr. Sajjan were still deliberating on peacekeeping commitments, adding his government will “take the time necessary to establish the right path forward for Canada.”

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

No events are scheduled at this time.


Global Times: BRICS summit displays the potential of a new future

by Editorial Staff (feat. Swaran Singh), WSFA 12, June 24, 2022

Oil's Dive Won't Bring Any Immediate Relief on Inflation

by Alex Longley, Elizabeth low, and Barbara Powell (feat. Amrita Sen), BNNBloomberg, June 24, 2022

China To Tout Its Governance Model At BRICS Summit

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), The Asean Post, June 23, 2022

Soutien aux victimes d’inconduites sexuelles dans l’armée

by Rude Dejardins (feat. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine), ICI Radio Canada, June 23, 2022

Defence: $4.9 billion for radars against Russian bombs

by Editorial Staff (feat. Rob Huebert), Archynews, June 23, 2022

The Hans Island “Peace” Agreement between Canada, Denmark, and Greenland

by Elin Hofverberg (feat. Natalie Loukavecha), Library of Congress, June 22, 2022

What the future holds for western Canadian oil producers

by Gabriel Friedman (feat. Kevin Birn), Beaumont News, June 22, 2022

At BRICS summit, China sets stage to tout its governance model

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), Aljazeera, June 22, 2022

Crude oil price: there are no changes to the fundamentals

by Faith Maina (feat. Amrita Sen), Invezz, June 22, 2022

Few details as Liberals promise billions to upgrade North American defences

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Andrea Charron), National Newswatch, June 20, 2022

Defence Minister Anita Anand to make announcement on continental defence

by Steven Chase (feat. Rob Huebert), The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2022

Table pancanadienne des politiques

by Alain Gravel (feat. Jean-Christophe Boucher), ICI Radio Canada, June 18, 2022

Russia Ukraine conflict

by Gloria Macarenko (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC Radio One, June 17, 2022

New privacy Bill to introduce rules for personal data, AI use

by Shaye Ganam (feat. Tom Keenan), 680 CHED, June 17, 2022


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 150–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3H9


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


© 2002-2022 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email