Dalhousie program trains troops to disarm child soldiers without violence
Graduates will be deployed in Canada or overseas to teach others the new tactics
Fifteen Canadian veterans will spend the next few weeks in Halifax learning how to train others to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers, and disarm those who make it to the frontlines.
The program, called Veteran Trainers to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers, or VTECS, is being offered at Dalhousie University through the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, in partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada, a veterans advocacy organization.
The initiative's namesake, retired lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire, told CBC's Information Morning about a personal encounter with a child soldier in Rwanda he can't forget.
"I came to a roadblock and he put an AK-47 up a nostril. His eyeballs were huge, he was sweating, all the kids all around screaming and yelling and his hands on the trigger," Dallaire said.
"An adult you can sense, you know, where you're going with it. A child you can't, and if they're able to get that close you don't know what might make him pull the trigger."
Dallaire said he happened to have a chocolate bar in his hand, and that gave him the break he needed to negotiate with the child.
There's no such thing as a child who volunteers to be a soldier, he said. They're all there under duress and face significant abuse.
The goal of the VTECS training is to give Canadian and international troops options for handling child soldiers "without simply reverting to shooting them," he said.
"That's the most vulgar dimension of it — is that they're using them as cannon fodder," Dallaire said. "If we kill these kids it creates friction with the community that's there and, in fact, it sustains the adults in keeping the war going."
The ultimate goal of the program is to make child soldiers ineffective on the frontlines so that they can be disarmed and rescued by humanitarian groups.
During the training, participants will study a series of potential scenarios they might face in the field, and explore the best ways to handle them. Graduates will be deployed in Canada or overseas to train others.
They also plan to work in schools to prevent children from being recruited in the first place.
Dalhousie University is becoming a centre of excellence for a whole new tactical framework and the impact will be felt worldwide, Dallaire said.
Dallaire will give a public lecture on the subject 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Halifax Central Library. This is the first in a series of lectures by humanitarians, child protection experts and activists called Children: The Ultimate Victims in War and Conflict Today.
The presentations are scheduled to take place at the library each Wednesday in July.
With files from Information Morning