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children’s rights

Marieke Hopman

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23 augustus 2016

Update #4, 15-19 August: Bambari

23 augustus 2016 | By | No Comments

On tuesday 15th August we were supposed to leave for Bambari at 16.00. Unfortunately there were some problems at the bank (they had no cash), and it got later and later … In the end we left after 18.00 and had to drive to Sibut in the dark, which felt a bit unsafe. Driving in the dark, knowing there might be armed groups around ready to attack and loot the car, you start looking at the road differently. You find yourself watching the hands of people on the side of the road; are they carrying guns? Do they wear amulets (which they believe protects them from bullets)? Fortunately, other than that we killed a pig that was crossing the road, nothing happened.

The next day departure for Bambari at 5.30. The road was again very beautiful, and very bumpy. We stopped along the way so that I could do some interviews. One village chief explained to me that the children in his village could not go to school, because the school was in the neighboring village and the chiefs don’t get along. So the children are not allowed access.

We arrived in Bambari in the late afternoon. Bambari is the second most important city in the country, especially because of its diamond mines. The city is currently divided into two halves, one anti-balaka and one UPC (ex-Seleka) side. MINUSCA, the UN troops, guard the bridge in between. This is why we went for drinks in the bar next to the bridge, even if the music was too loud to be able to talk :-).

Wednesday morning I started by going to the IDP (“Internally Displaced Persons”, meaning people who fled their homes yet stayed in the country) site. There are several IDP sites in and around Bambari, however most of them do not have any schools, and children have not had education for years. I chose to visit a site where they do have an operational school. In addition to interviews, I got to follow a class (see video below). Strikingly, although this education is completely free and even school supplies are paid for by NGOs, in this class almost 20% of the students was absent.

In the afternoon, I did an interview with the Imam of the central Mosque, on the Muslim/UPC side of the city. He explained that at first, due to the fighting it was too unsafe for children to walk to the public school on the other side of the city. Therefore the armed group UPC decided to build its own school. These days, allegedly, they manage a public school, open to both Christian and Muslim children, paid for by the General Ali Darass.

What’s more, we walked over to the school and now that it’s the holidays, they are using the school for adult education. In a country with an extremely high percentage of illiteracy, stumbling across this adult education felt almost like a miracle. The Imam himself told us that he had never been to school and was now taking his first lessons (in yet another location than the one we saw). Word has it that even the General himself is taking lessons, learning how to read and write!

And this coming from an armed group that is normally know for committing human rights violations…Seeing the adults studying, and learning about their investment of money in quality, public education – something the CAR government (at least, the previous governments) does not always seem ready to do – totally blew my mind and especially confused my ideas about right and wrong. DSCN0681

Marieke Hopman

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22 oktober 2014

Ministry of defence raises minimum age for General Military Courses

22 oktober 2014 | By | One Comment

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.