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2014 oktober

Marieke Hopman

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29 oktober 2014

UN concerned about Dutch military education of minors

29 oktober 2014 | By | No Comments

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concerns with regard to military education of minors in the Netherlands, especially with regard to the vocational programmes VeVa (“Veiligheid en Vakmanschap”). This practice has been questioned by the Dutch Coalition of Children’s Rights in their OPAC report, published September 2014. As a result of this report, the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child has drafted a “list of issues”.

VeVa students during exercise (picture by Vrij Nederland)

VeVa students during exercise (picture by Vrij Nederland)

This list of issues consists of ten points for which the Dutch government has to answer to the committee, before march 2015. The third issue, on the military vocational military education VeVa, is extensive; the Dutch government is asked to provide information on, amongst others, the content of the program, the military internships and the suitability of the guidelines used for children.

There are approximately 2500 students currently in the VeVa program, of whom most are under age 18. The Dutch children’s rights coalition has expressed concerns on these issues in the OPAC report. They are especially concerned with the military self-defense and mental training courses, for which the teacher’s manuals are the ones used for military training of both adults and minors. Research conducted by the coalition raised suspicion that these practices are regularly unsuited for minors.

veva student story
The issues has already raised some concerns among the Dutch community and received some media coverage. Whether the expressed concerns by children’s rights organizations and the UN will have some effect on Dutch government policy is still uncertain. The issue will hopefully not be disregarded by the Dutch Ministry of Defence, but rather be seen as an opportunity to improve the military education programs. The OPAC report does conclude, after all, that there are certain benefits to this kind of educational program, provided that it does not have an adult military character.

The issue is a direct result of Marieke Hopman’s Research on Childhood and Children’s Rights.

Marieke Hopman

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22 oktober 2014

Ministry of defence raises minimum age for General Military Courses

22 oktober 2014 | By | 2 Comments

Some very good news; the ministry of Defence has changed the minimum age for all General Military Courses (AMO) and all General Military Airmobile Courses (AMOL) in the Netherlands. This is a direct result of Marieke Hopman’s MA research on children’s rights and the 2014 OPAC report by the Dutch NGO Coalition for Children’s Rights. Until recently the minimum age for starting these courses were age 16 and 6 or 9 months. As soon as someone enters either of these courses, they are officially employed by the military. Which means that these minors might be defined as “child combatants”. This practice is clearly against both domestic and international legislation.

Advertisement for "soldier grounddefence airforce" on 07/29/2014

Advertisement for “soldier grounddefence airforce” on 07/29/2014

Advertisement for "soldier grounddefence airforce" on 10/22/2014

Advertisement for “soldier grounddefence airforce” on 10/22/2014

The change did not require a change in law, since the policy of recruiting those below age 17 for mililtary courses aspiring mililtary officers was already against domestic law. The original OPAC report on the issue argued as follows;

‘According to the website of the government, students can start with the AMO at the age of 16 years and 9 months. AMOL-students can start at the age of 16 years and 6 months. This contradicts domestic law which provides that only “those who have reached the age of 17 may be enlisted as military trainees [aspirant military officers]” (article 1a of the Military Personnel Act). It also contradicts the binding declaration of the Dutch government given upon ratification that states: “persons who have reached the age of seventeen years, may on a strictly voluntary basis be recruited as military personnel in probation” (§13 of the Initial report)’ (p. 10).

In the OPAC report, the coalition recommended to the Dutch government to “ensure that only persons of seventeen years and older on the military courses for aspiring military officers are admitted”. They have taken over this recommendation quietly , which can be seen on the ministry of Defence recruitment website (see picture).

This is of course a small step in the right direction. Next on the agenda: develop and implement specific guidelines for the military education of minors! To ensure that minors are not treated as adult recruits, for example by making sure no minors are beaten up during any exercise.

Marieke Hopman

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13 oktober 2014

Live blogs from field research in Rwanda 2013

13 oktober 2014 | By | No Comments

Live blogs from field research in Rwanda


 

9-13 august 2013: a short summary


August 10, 2013: visit camp former child combatants

child soldiers camp

Dear all,

After much hassling over permission I got permission to visit camp Muhoza and do interviews. So yesterday me and my interpreter went to Musanze, in the north-west of Rwanda, to visit the demobilization camp for former child combatants. In the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it seems that all parties (except for the government army, although I am not sure about that, and of course except for the UN force) make use of child soldiers. When sometimes some of these soldiers decide to flee, they either cross jthe border to Rwanda or Uganda, or they try to reach a UN camp. Fleeing is a risky business. The ones who get caught while trying to break out are mostly killed. If they do reach the border or the UN camp, tired of fighting in the jungle, their future is still unsure. If they are Rwandese, they are collected in a Rwandan demobilization camp. This means that for a period varying from 4 months to 1 year, they get food, schooling and a bed. Here they try to prepare these ex-combatants for the return into Rwandan society, for example by teaching them Rwandan history and by giving them counselling.

We were received very friendly and welcoming in this camp – they even picked us up from the bus station and we were asked to sign a guestbook (last entry: October 2012). In one of the classrooms we did four interviews. The children seem to be well taken care of in the camps. There are 46 boys currently staying in the camp. They have games, a volleyball net, one psychologist. Officially, their ages vary from 15-19, but the problem is that after years in the jungle and no birthday parties, you do not know your age. One of the boys that we interviewed was recruited as a child soldier when he was 8 years old. He said he was now 17 and almost mature, but I would say he was 14 at the most. Most of these children (if not all) are badly traumatized. For them their biggest current problem, except for psychological struggle, is the fact that in the jungle they have lacked education for so long. In the camp they get some schooling, but they said, how are we going to make a living without education? When they get out of the camp they get RWF 100.000 (which is about €120). They are advised to group together, with five or six of their fellow camp-members, to rent a place and maybe start a business.They cannot afford to go to school.

On the one hand, it is very impressive of the Rwandan government that they take care of these kids so well, even after they have usually fought against the best interests of Rwanda (for example for the FDLR, which is the group that in 1994 were the aggressors during the genocide, killing about a million people. After the genocide they fled Rwanda, into the DRC jungle, where they are still active and still cherishing the idea of returning to Rwanda to finish what they started). On the other hand, what will come of these children after they leave the camp? Will society accept them? Will their family take them back lovingly (provided family members are still alive and can be found)? Will they ever be able to make a living?


August 6, 2013: some images from Rwanda

These are some images that I shot during the last couple of days. Getting in touch with Rwandan children makes me wonder about childhood even more. After working with children in the Netherlands for years, I find so far that these children are just like any children. They like to dance, to draw, if one has a pencil and the other doesn’t they take it from eachother and then they negotiate..they want to hold your hand..


 

August 2, 2013: Dance practice with the kids

Goodmorning! Just a little something to make you smile…


 

July 30, 2013: interview with the rector of the university of Byumba

Yesterday I went to the university in Byumba (north Rwanda) to do an interview with the rector. In the video Dr. Faustin Nyombayire tells about what his young university needs and how exchange with western universities would be mutually benificient. Also, he says something aout the interview that we did for my research..


 

July 23-24: short summary


 

July 23, 2013: Sextourism…?