“Securing Child Rights in Time of Conflict,” by Diane Marie Amann, examines ways in which conflict affects children. Amann addresses four key issues: (1) the definition of “armed conflict,” (2) whether there have been periods of non-conflict, (3) the definition of “children” under international law, and (4) whether children have rights under international law.
According to Amann, the narrow definition of the term “conflict” is limited to “armed conflict,” while the broad interpretation encompasses severe and continued violence that necessitates international intervention. She argues that applying the broad definition allows for a more expansive application of laws to protect children. She identifies a gap between “structural violence” and “direct violence,” the former referring to institutions and incidents involving exploitation. She also points out that the United States’ Atrocities Prevention Board; an institution formed in 2006 to ensure that genocide and mass atrocity prevention are a priority for the highest levels of the U.S. Government, is working to bridge this gap. This gap is what she identifies as the domain of “extreme violence,” where children lack protection under existing laws because extreme violence does not always involve exploitation nor qualify as armed conflict.
Next, she contends that public and private actors should be working to protect children’s rights even when there is not a formally recognized conflict. She argues that it is difficult to determine whether there has truly been a time of non-conflict, or “peace,” because a state of conflict is not easy to clearly delineate. Throughout history, there have been continuous times of war even though armed confrontations have been given names like “action”, “operation”, “mission” or “expedition,” rather than “conflict.” As a result, there are never truly periods of non-conflict.
Amann continues with an examination of what it means to be a “child.” She argues that the word “child” is relative: an individual may or may not be viewed as a child based on his or her maturity, geographical location, or cultural norms. Despite this ambiguity, laws often define childhood exclusively by age, which creates discrepancies in international law. She points out that there is no standard age by which international law defines a child, creating a gray area in which some children are not afforded protection. While the global community recognizes the vulnerability of children and the need for their protection, it also acknowledges that children can be dangerous and thus may be subject to prosecution for crimes. This gives rise to the dual status of the child as “innocent and guilty, defenseless and dangerous at the same time.”
Lastly, Amann argues that children have legal rights under international law. Today, international law is focused on protecting children against sexual violence, attacks on schools or hospitals, denial of humanitarian access, abduction, child soldiering, and killing or maiming of children. However, these rights are not always enforced.
Amann concludes by asserting that children are entitled to rights during times of conflict and peace, but it is the job of international organizations, regional human rights systems, and civil society actors to better secure those rights. These actors must use various means to protect children’s rights, including litigation, claims commissions, and reporting mechanisms. She argues that private and public actors need to be creative and flexible, and utilize different mechanisms to protect children’s rights.
NOTE: This Summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).