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Marieke Hopman

Marieke Hopman


23 januari 2015

Asking yourself a question, that’s how resistance (and a phd project) starts

23 januari 2015 | By | No Comments

I have now started the fundraising for the PhD research! Exciting times. You can find all information here:
Twitter: @research_CRC / @marieke_hopman

Please take a look! – Marieke Hopman

When moving house recently, I recovered a postcard that a friend sent to me in July 2013, during the lead-up to my first (field) research on children’s rights. On the front of the card there is this poem by a Dutch poet, Remco Campert:


Verzet begint niet met grote woorden
maar met kleine daden

zoals storm met zacht geritsel in de tuin
of de kat die de kolder in zijn kop krijgt

zoals brede rivieren
met een kleine bron
verscholen in het woud

zoals een vuurzee
met dezelfde lucifer
die een sigaret aansteekt

zoals liefde met een blik
een aanraking iets dat je opvalt in een stem

jezelf een vraag stellen
daarmee begint verzet

en dan die vraag aan een ander stellen.
Resistance does not start with big words
but with small deeds

like a storm with soft rustling in the garden
or the cat going crazy

like wide rivers
with a small source
hidden in the forest

like a sea of fire
with the same match
that lights a cigarette

like love in a look
a touch something that strikes you in a voice

asking yourself a question
that's how resistance starts

and then posing that question to someone else.

Clearly, my friend knows me and my research well. 18 months further down the road I am still asking questions. I have, for the time being, finished a PHD proposal on children’s rights, which has as its main question: “How can we understand the position of the child in the international legal community?”. I think this is an extremely important question that can provide an impetus for social transformation.

In addition, starting a PHD project for me is a period of great insecurity. Days are filled with questions. Is the proposal good enough? Who do I want as supervisors, and do they want me as a student? Do I possess sufficient capacities to successfully research the subject on a high academic level? Will my articles get published? How do I find the financial means to even start the project?

Regarding the latter, financial issue, I  have decided to take a bold and unusual step, which is to try and finance the project (at least partly) through fundraising. It took me two weeks of Christmas holidays to decide to go on this adventure, that had been lingering in my mind ever since I did a small crowdfunding project to finance my previous research in 2013. I think fundraising for research that is socially relevant, is a great way to expand social commitment to and impact of the research. In my experience, this approach gets so many people involved in the process; academics and non-academics, young and old, students and professionals, NGOs and corporations… All this leading to greater societal impact in the end, as well as individual interest and support.

However, the approach is uncommon in present-day academia. Uncommon to say the least. In fact, it might very well be frowned upon by some academics. To not (solely) walk the traditional road of grant applications, leaves out the academic judgment involved in grant distribution. According to some, we cannot leave judgment of academic value up to the court of public opinion. This is probably a legitimate objection.

Yet this also triggers my resistance. With recent financial cutbacks, less academic research can receive grants. Therefore we HAVE to look for different means of supporting our work. Academic value can still be judged through peer-reviewed research articles. In addition, if some of the funding comes from civil society, publication in more popular media should increase in (academic) appreciation.


At times when I feel uncertain and scared about the whole project, which is pretty much my perpetual condition, I sometimes think of the words of Joseph Knecht in Herman Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game” (1943), who argues that ‘we possess that limited freedom of decision and action which is the human prerogative and which makes world history the history of mankind’. According to Knecht we may therefore choose, in proportion to our understanding of events, in proportion to our alertness and our courage, to either close our eyes to danger and hope that it will not find us, or recollect that ‘we belong to world history and help to make it’.

Suppose through fundraising, one would be able to operate on two levels; at the level of civil society; politics, policy, and at the level of academic research; both using the same data. Would that not be a dream come true? Or should all people who do not receive a grant give up on their dream of doing academic research?

Thanks to Bavo Hopman and Kila van der Starre for (translating) the poem.

Marieke Hopman


5 november 2014

Rwandan child soldiers: demobilization and reintegration

5 november 2014 | By | No Comments

It is common knowledge that many child combatants are active in the DRC conflict today. Sometimes child combatants manage to leave the armed group that they are supposed to serve. What happens to Rwandan child combatants after they escape? How are they demobilized and reintegrated into society? How do we even know if they are children? And how does Rwandan government policy on this matter relate to international law?

Child combatants that manage to get away from an armed group in the DRC in which they are serving, report usually to the UN or the ICRC. If they are Rwandan, they are sent to a special demobilization camp in the Rwandan western province, as part of the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Program. When I visited this camp, there were 46 children, ages said to be 14-19 years. This was considered a “quiet period”, because at that moment there was a period of relative rest in the DR Congo after an outburst of violence earlier in the year. In this camp, children get some basic education (upon arrival most are illiterate), which includes reading, writing, the Rwandan language and Rwandan history. There is one nurse employed for therapeutic purposes. The children follow a weekly schedule of schooling, leisure (sports and games) and therapy.

child soldiers camp

When they come out of the Congolese jungle they have to tell their age. This determines whether they are children or adults, which has as its first consequence to which camp they are sent (the adult camp or the children’s camp). But often these children do not know their age. For example, I spoke to a boy who, when I asked about his education, said he had finished second class in primary school. He said he was recruited after, ‘at age 16, when he finished his studies’. In the second class of primary school in Rwanda you are usually 8 years old. The conversation in which I tried to find out about his current age and his age at the moment of recruitment is illustrative for the complexity of child combatants and information about age:

MH: What is your education?
Int: He was recruited for soldier when he was in second primary.
MH: Second primary, and then?
Int: When he got into soldier. When he got recruited.
MH: How old was he in second primary?
Int: 16 years.
MH: In 2nd primary you are 16 years?
Int: He went into…he was recruited when he had finished his studies.
MH: So, finished primary school?
Int: He was recruited when he was in 2 primary.
MH: But in the second of primary, you are not 16 then, are you?
Int: He was born here, in Bukavu, and he was being recruited when he was in secondary school.
MH: Secondary school?
Int: Not secondary school. In primary school.
MH: So how come he was at primary school when he was 16 years old?
Int: He started when he was very young.
MH: He started what?
Int: To study. To go to school. He thinks it was between 10 or 15.
MH: When he started?
Int: Yes.
MH: Do you know how old you are?
Int: He doesn’t know. He guesses.

The respondent said he was 18 years old now, but he looked more like 16 years old to me. Later during the conversation the respondent said he was confused ‘because of the bullets’. For three of four former child combatants that I spoke to, I was certain their true age was not how old they said or thought they were – they all seemed younger.

These former child combatants get to stay in the camp for a minimum of three months and a maximum of nine months. During this period authorities try to locate family members and to reunite the children with their families – but, according to the stories I heard, this is often not very successful. Either families can’t be found or they are in the DRC, children who were recruited at a very young age might not know where they come from at all, etc. After finishing the Demobilization and Reintegration program, each person gets about €120 and a food package. They are encouraged by the two camp leaders to group together, to stay together, add up their money to be able to rent a place and maybe buy some supplies, like for example some simcards or postcards or other things they can sell in the street. There is no follow-up from the government.

The question is if in this situation the Rwandan government acts in accordance with formal law. Are these “all feasible measures” that can be taken to ensure protection and care for children who are affected by an armed conflict (CRC, art. 38.4)? Does the Rwandan government in this respect take ‘all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of (…) armed conflicts’ (CRC, art. 39)?

From my experience in the camp for former child combatants, I can positively confirm that this recovery takes place in ‘an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child’ (CRC, art. 39). The question is of course if all former child combatants get to go to the camp, but this seems likely since there is a follow-up situation from the point where children report to the UN up until they get to the camp, by the ICRC. However, I worry about what happens when children leave the camp. What do you do when you are a 15 year old child who, after spending six months in the camp, is put in the street with some money and some food (and maybe some friends)? Where do you go? What are you going to do? You are most likely traumatized by your experiences, you have hardly had proper schooling and now you have to survive, probably start your own business or work on a farm. I am not sure if the Rwandan government in this sense takes all appropriate measures. This situation, after children leave the camp, conflicts with Rwandan national law too, for example part two of art. 24: ‘A child who is temporarily or definitively deprived of his or her birth family shall be entitled (…) to a replacement protection which could consist of his or her placement in a foster family, an adoptive family or a placement in a relevant social welfare institution’. This does not happen. In this sense the Rwandan government can do more; they can for example find foster families for these former child combatants and provide opportunities for counselling if necessary. If they were to change policy in this respect, they have to take into account the fact that age in this situation is not a good designator anymore to decide whether someone is a child. A 15 year old child might say he is 18 years old.

The content of this article is based on the 2014 research “Childhood and Children’s Rights“, attachment 1: Rwandan child combantants.

Marieke Hopman


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


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


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…?