• 'Paper Protection Mechanisms': Child soldiers and the International Protection of Children in Africa's Conflict Zones.

      Francis, David J. (2007)
      The arrest and prosecution in March 2006 of the former Liberian warlord-President Charles Taylor by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, for war crimes including the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and the arrest and prosecution of the Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, by the International Criminal Court, accused of enlisting child soldiers in the DRC war, have raised expectations that finally international conventions and customary international laws protecting children in conflict zones will now have enforcement powers. But why has it taken so long to protect children in conflict situations despite the volume of international treaties and conventions? What do we know about the phenomenon of child soldiering, and why are children still routinely recruited and used in Africa's bloody wars? This article argues that against the background of unfolding events relating to prosecution for enlistment of child soldiers, the international community is beginning to wake up to the challenge of enforcing its numerous 'paper protection' instruments for the protection of children. However, a range of challenges still pose serious threats to the implementation and enforcement of the international conventions protecting children. Extensive research fieldwork in Liberia and Sierra Leone over three years reveals that the application of the restrictive and Western-centric definition and construction of a 'child' and 'childhood' raises inherent difficulties in the African context. In addition, most war-torn and post-conflict African societies are faced with the challenge of incorporating international customary laws into their domestic laws. The failure of the international community to enforce its standards on child soldiers also has to do with the politics of ratification of international treaties, in particular the fear by African governments of setting dangerous precedents, since they are also culpable of recruitment and use of child soldiers.