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On May 14, 2024, we hosted a virtual event during the 33rd session of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ). This event focused on the urgent and heartbreaking issue of child soldiers, an issue that underscores our collective failure to protect the most vulnerable among us. Bringing together policymakers, academics, advocates, frontline professionals, and other partners, we aimed to shed light on the complex issue of child soldier recruitment. This meeting was more than just a conference; It was a crucial platform to foster dialogue, catalyze action and bridge the gap between policy and practice.

The recruitment of child soldiers is a multifaceted problem that requires a nuanced understanding of its root causes and far-reaching consequences. Our side event sought to equip decision-makers with comprehensive knowledge gleaned from affected communities and the most advanced academic research. In doing so, we aimed to inspire evidence-based policy solutions that can address the scourge of child recruitment into armed conflict.

On this page, you will find a video presentation and transcript of the event, capturing the essence of the discussions and the spirit of collaboration that guided our efforts. We invite you to explore these resources, gain a deeper understanding of the issue, and join us in our commitment to justice, peace, and the well-being of all children around the world.

As part of our commitment to addressing the problem of child soldiers, we have developed a comprehensive set of policy recommendations aimed at eradicating this grave injustice. We invite you to review these recommendations and join us in supporting them. By signing, you can offer your support to this critical cause and help advance the global effort to protect vulnerable children from being recruited into armed conflict. Your support is a powerful step toward implementing these policies and toward a future where every child can enjoy a life free from the horrors of war.

Thank you for your interest and support in addressing this critical issue. We will continue working towards a future where every child is safe, protected and free from war.

Youth in the middle of the conflict: how to end forced recruitment?

Nelly: We welcome you on behalf of Institute for Disarmament Research, Red por los Derechos de la Infancia en México, World Vision México and Agora International. My name is Nelly Amairany, and i'll be moderating this panel today, and I want to open the floor with this terrifying figure. According to UNICEF, between 2005 and 2022, 105,000 children were recruited and are serving in armed conflicts, but the true number is probably much higher. While often referred to as child soldiers., this term doesn't fully capture the broad scope of exploitation and abuse. These boys and girls are used not only as fighters, but they fall into domestic and sexual slavery. Armed forces or groups recruit children for a variety of reasons. Some are abducted, threatened or coerced, while others join due to poverty or the need to support their families, or even to protect their communities. Regardless of the reason, this recruitment is a severe violation of child rights and international humanitarian law. In many cases, they are armed, drugged or intoxicated to foster aggression and dependency on the recruiters, making it difficult or frightening for them to live the physical, psychological and social consequences of their involvement in conflict. We are here today to discuss the situation and impact of the recruitment of girls and boys, to explore prevention and integration strategies, and to examine successful public policies. An outstanding panel of experts join us to help us delve into this topic. Valeria Jeremia She has been responsible for the legislation and public policy area at Red por los derechos de la infancia en México since 2011. We also welcome Francesca Bataut. She's an associate researcher with the Managing Exits from Armed Conflict project at UNIDIR. Prior to joining UNIDIR, Francesca worked on humanitarian mine action and weapons dynamics in the Lake Chad Basin for Mines Advisory Group as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Crisis Group. Francesca was also a graduate professional with a conventional Arms and Ammunition program. Our third panelist is Faviola Capetillo Hernández. She serves as mobilization and campaigns manager for World Vision in Mexico. There, she has promoted Mexico's national agenda regarding the rights of children and adolescents, and she has engaged with different actors to echo and join efforts to guarantee and protect the full exercise of the rise of children and adolescents. Our final panelist is Sean Molloy. He is a NUACT fellow based at Newcastle Law School. Sean is a senior affiliate at Peace Rep programming based at the University of Edinburgh, and has worked as a consultant for International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, un bodies and governmental agencies. He has also conceptualized and delivered a database on peace agreements and children, and continues to work on databases on both peace agreements and constitution, making in conflict affected settings in armed conflicts and the political efforts to resolve them. The needs of children should not be overlooked or minimized. I'm going to ask Sean. If we can start with you, then I'll give the floor to Faviola followed by Francesca, and then we'll finish with Valeria's presentation. 

Sean: Hi, can I just check if you can see my screen? Okay. Nelly: Yes, we see. 

Sean: All right. Brilliant. Okay. Well, thank you very much, Nellie, for the for the introduction and for the invitation from Jorge. It's great to be on this panel with such distinguished guests. Now, I'm going to be talking very briefly about a sort of specific aspect of child soldiers. And what I see is unique opportunities to help address the difficulties and challenges facing child soldiers, particularly as they as transition from conflict emerge and while we work towards peace. So my broad research looks at children and peace agreements. So, very briefly, what do we mean by peace agreements? Well, basically defined a peace agreement, as I'm sure you know, is a formal document produced by discussion with some or all protagonists in a military conflict with a view to ending that conflict. And we probably think about peace agreements primarily as ending violence in the immediate term. But peace agreements also look backwards, so they focus on accountability for harms that have occurred, but also trying to grapple with why a conflict emerged in the first place, so that they can build towards the future. And for that reason, peace agreements will often address power sharing, security, sector reform, constitutional reform, and socioeconomic development. And for this reason, they're defined sometimes as windows of opportunity or constitutional movements or critical junctures. And so, I've been particularly interested in how children are included in these peace agreements, because what we know is that what's included in a peace agreement matters, and so did the various groups who are supposed to benefit from any commitments and provisions in them. And as a sort of specific aspect of this research, I've also looked at child soldiers and produced a number of publications on that. So why should peace agreements address child soldiers? Well, in theory, so what are the possibilities? Well, firstly they're useful for agenda setting. So, child soldiers is often a hidden problem and one that those who are negotiating war's end are keen to keep hidden. No participating party really wants to admit that they've used child soldiers by including them in a piece of grain while it sets them on the agenda. Peace agreement provisions can also include commitments that the child soldiers will be protected that they'll be provided for. So we'll focus on things like education, health care, various socioeconomic conditions, and also participation. So, the inclusion of child soldiers in such things as for example, truth commissions, and efforts to deal with the past. And importantly, child soldiers or peace agreements can also be utilized to demonstrate that child soldiers are very often victims and that any transitional justice and accountability mechanism should focus on those who have recruited child soldiers. Research also suggests that by including child soldiers in peace agreements, positive differences can be made, particularly in regards to DDR. So, with my research, i've looked at approximately 2,000 peace agreements, and you can categorize commitments to child soldiers really in four very basic ways. Firstly, there are sort of general references to child soldiers by way of referencing international law, so international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. Peace agreements can also focus on child recruitment and the use of child soldiers. So for example, in ceasefire agreements, very often one of the terms of a ceasefire will be to stop the recruitment and continued use of child soldiers, and both parties or various parties involved must commit to that. Perhaps most importantly, peace agreements can also include provisions on DDR. So trying to get children out of these armed groups and also focus on rehabilitation and trying to integrate them back into society. And also, as I mentioned, there are certain peace agreements which are focused on the accountability aspect. So those who forcibly recruited child soldiers, for example, must face accountability. But there are a number of challenges and limitations which often impede the realization of the potential opportunities that are associated with, including child soldiers and peace agreements, with what actually happens in reality. So, firstly, relatively few, peace agreements have addressed child soldiers. And this is an important point, because, as I said, these peace agreements are very often the foundations of the post conflict state. And if child soldiers aren't included, well, very often they go unnoticed. There's often little or no reference to girls or female child soldiers. And therefore doesn't take into account their unique circumstances, their experiences of war, and their needs in the post conflict stage. There's often a need a failure to address child soldiers holistically. So there might be some reference to child soldiers, but there's not the necessary provisions around, for example, their education, their rehabilitation, their psychological and biological support. Oftentimes he commitments are ambiguous, so they're non-committal. They just refer to child soldiers, but don't have any, don't include any firm commitments that parties will, for example, include them in DDR. And I think importantly, there's very often a lack of involvement or participation of child soldiers, both in terms of negotiating peace agreements, and then subsequently in the implementation of peace agreements. And of course, this misses a vital opportunity to learn from the experiences of child soldiers, not just in terms of those who are forcibly recruited. But we know of course that very often child soldiers join armed struggles for a variety of reasons. And if we don't get to the bottom of why that is the case, then it's very difficult to address the wider socioeconomic issues that first led to their involvement. So based on my research, looking at the opportunities, how they're included and the difficulties that are faced, I issue a number of recommendations through my research. Firstly, the child soldiers must be included in negotiations and implementation. For reasons that I've set out, the issue of child soldiers must be included as early as possible in peace negotiations. So, for example, in Colombia, it took a long time for the issue to come to the negotiating table, primarily because neither the FARC or the government want to admit their use. But we can see three other piece processes that when we include children in the very early stages of pre negotiation agreements, it provides much more time to develop robust provisions and commitments on how to address child soldiers. Peace agreements should be comprehensive and precise in how they address child soldiers comprehensive. In the sense, you need to not just focus on recruitment, but also to understand the broader socioeconomic conditions that facilitated their joining and also the needs in the post conflict. Setting the language must be binding so that both parties actually commit to fulfill their promises. There needs to be a differentiation between boys and girls, 

particularly when when trying to ascertain and develop what needs to be done in the post conflict stage and how we can take into account their specific needs. And finally, DDR provisions must be child-centered. What i find in my research is that very often children are just added, included as an add on without really developing very comprehensive and child-centered DDR programs. Okay, so i think i managed to do that in seven minutes, so i'll hand over. Thank you. 

Nelly: Thank you, Sean. Faviola, whenever you are ready, thank you.


Faviola: Thank you very much for the invitation. It is a pleasure for World Vision Mexico to share with you all the experiences we have regarding this topic, which is a complex and challenging context for Mexico. Discussing this issue personally evokes strong feelings in me, beyond empathy, as it also affects the daily lives of everyone living in the country due to numerous issues tied to Mexico's security strategy and the history of organized crime here.

For this discussion, I would like to bring up the background of the Second Optional Protocol on the Rights of Children regarding their involvement in armed conflicts. This protocol outlines a series of points concerning the demobilization of children, the prevention of their recruitment by armed groups (whether by state or non-state actors), and the public policies that states, which commit to or ratify this protocol, must implement to protect children.

Every February 12th, we commemorate the Red Hand Day. This past date saw many activities organized by various organizations, individuals, and activists in Mexico, showing the goodwill with which Mexico accepted this second protocol. Almost a month later, on March 15, 2002, Mexico ratified this second protocol, committing to implement the points and actions it outlines.

However, the reality is different. I have noted some observations made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding Mexico, which I believe align with actions taken by Colombia and other initiatives being pushed by organizations like REDIM in Mexico. I wanted to bring these observations up for discussion to consider actions already underway in other countries and those highlighted for Mexico.

One major aspect of public policy involves coordinating the three levels of government to implement the protocol and establishing necessary measures to ensure children's safety. In Mexico, this goes beyond issues like hired killers to address children's access to small arms. Stories and international reports have highlighted how this access affects the school environment and overall violence in schools.

We need mechanisms to identify children who may have been recruited or used in hostilities and take measures for their psychological recovery and social reintegration. This is something other organizations in Mexico are addressing, but we need to strengthen these efforts. We need comprehensive mechanisms for care, prevention, and reintegration. Additionally, special protection for children facing these situations is crucial, requiring Mexico to enhance its institutional capacities.

We will discuss this further in the next slide. Another important recommendation is awareness, education, and training programs for prosecutors, lawyers, judges, security forces, and the armed forces in Mexico. Since the arrival of this protocol, efforts began to address the age of children accepted into the armed forces. My father, for example, joined the armed forces at 16. Back then, there was no protocol or human rights mechanism. This was 30 years ago, and many who joined at that age are still in service or are now retired. This early recruitment has significant implications for personal development and the decisions made to combat armed groups and organized crime in Mexico.

Another key point is data collection and analysis systems, not just for age, sex, and municipality, but also for understanding the number of children detained, injured, or killed in the ongoing conflict between the military and criminal groups. These children often find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught in crossfire, which is part of the broader impact of armed violence in Mexico.

We also need measures to protect children from police actions. In Mexico, there are many cases of arbitrary detentions, especially of teenagers, and the stigmatization of young people as gang members. Well-known cases like the 43 students from Ayotzinapa highlight issues of arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force by the military in conflicts with criminal groups.

At World Vision Mexico, we prioritize the participation of children and the general public. I wanted to share some phrases that highlight the impact of armed violence on children and youth in Mexico. Joaquin, 17, told us during a focus group that many children are taken by force to be used, sometimes their parents are paid, sometimes not. This is a clear example of what he sees regarding recruitment.

There are also other crimes, like kidnapping and extortion, that arise around armed groups. Alejandro, 14, from Baja California, mentioned that kidnapping and extortion are the most common forms of child violence in his community.

Sexual violence against girls and young women by criminal groups also severely impacts their daily lives. Sonia, 16, from Tamaulipas, shared that many of her friends have disappeared after getting involved with narco boyfriends.

It is crucial to center the participation of children and young people in public policies, along with first responders like teachers, social workers, and doctors. Often, these individuals face initial cases and don't know how to act due to a lack of protocols, resources, or security. José, 12, pointed out that children are often not allowed to express their opinions because they are young. This adult-centered approach must change in policy development.

Finally, we conducted a drawing exercise with children on February 12th, where they shared drawings and phrases. They associated violence and recruitment with war, highlighting their understanding of the issue. Some phrases included: "When the rich wage war, it is the poor who die" and "No child should suffer the disasters and consequences of a war." These reflect their thoughts on the impact of armed violence.

With this, I conclude. Thank you very much for the invitation, and I am open to questions and discussion.


Nelly: Muchas gracias, Faviola. Francesca, we could start with your presentation. Thank you. 

Francesca: Thank you very much everyone for having me today as mentioned. My name is Francesca, I'm an associate researcher with the Managing Exits from Armed Conflict Project at UNIDIR, a little bit of background, the Managing Exits from Armed Conflict Project also known as MiAC is a UN initiative that seeks to generate a unique evidence based on individuals journeys in and out of armed groups. The project seeks to understand how and why people leave armed groups to better inform policy and practice. We do this through large scale longitudinal research where we interview people who were formally associated with armed groups, as well as people who are currently affiliated with community security groups as well as their unassociated counterparts in communities today, the project is currently rolling out in Iraq, Colombia and the Lake Chad basin. Today, i'll be giving you some insights about our qualitative work in the Lake Chad basin and especially on our work with children and youth. I will focus on two factors that our data has shown to impact the recruitment of children and youth. These are the impact of armed group proximity as well as the role of education. The first point may sound rather obvious, but it is very much often underemphasized. When armed groups are close by children and young people are more likely to come into contact with them. When the whole community mobilizes in or an armed group exerts territory control, it can be extremely difficult to avoid association. In Nigeria, we found that in communities which have been occupied by Boko Haram. children are up to 29% points, more likely to join a group than children and other young people who live in communities who have never been occupied. In the qualitative work that we have done, we have heard countless stories of young girls who were forced to marry Boko Haram fighters when they occupied their villages, and of young boys who were forced to do chores for the group, such as fetching water or farming doing so was a matter of survival or they would otherwise be killed. It's nearly impossible for anyone let alone children to stay neutral or otherwise unassociated when an armed group becomes the facto authority in the community where they live. 

The second point that I'd like to make is about the impact of education. Education is often argued to be one of the most important tools to protect children and armed conflict. Schools can act as a protective barrier by providing structured security and reducing interactions with on group interestingly. In our data, we have seen that education works in different directions across the region. Formal education decreases the likelihood of association with Boko Haram. However, in Nigeria, having some sort of formal education led to a 27% percent point increase in the likelihood of joining a community security actor such as the civilian joint task schools. This makes sense civilian community security actors are deeply embedded into communities where they operate and use public spaces such as schools for recruitment. We can also add here the impact of peer pressure that children might face when they're at school beyond formal education. MiAC also looked at the role of a religious and education, including the Ahmad Juransi system. Ahmad jerrys are children in the lake Chad basin who are sent to distant location to receive quranic education. They're often rendered extremely vulnerable as they're away from their families and have to beg to support themselves and their teachers. In our data, being in the Almajiri drastically increased the likelihood of a child becoming associated with Boko Haram by 22%. Interestingly here it was not only Boko Haram, but it also increased the likelihood of children become associated to community security actors. It appears that unlike most criticisms the Amna Jurancy System, which has been argued to promote ideological recruitment into Boko Haram, these results highlight that it may be the inherent vulnerability of children in the system that render them successful to recruitment. These are but two factors that we have uncovered in our data, but we have many more available in some of our publications, which I will be more than happy to share with you. 

Nelly: Thank you, Francesca. Valeria, whenever you're ready. 

Valeria: Thank you very much. Well, good morning, good afternoon to everyone. Thank you so much for the invitation. I am Valeria Jeremía, the Executive Coordinator of the Network for Children's Rights in Mexico (REDIM). I will talk a bit about the work we do at REDIM as a civil society organization, working alongside the Mexican government. In Mexico in 2024, there are no official data on the number of children and adolescents who are victims of recruitment and use by criminal groups. Estimates range between 30,000 and 300,000, indicating that these children may already be working for armed groups. However, there is no certainty about these numbers.

Involvement in organized crime stems from development in marginalized environments, within violent communities and families. It goes hand in hand with poverty, job instability, school dropout, lack of access to basic services, and also migration. Children and adolescents are used in multiple tasks by armed groups, including surveillance, cooking, cleaning, drug processing and sales, and committing serious crimes such as kidnappings, homicides, or disappearances. At the same time, they are subjected to abuse and exploitation. Girls and adolescent females, in particular, suffer from sexual exploitation, injuries, or even death as a result of forced recruitment.

REDIM has been working on this issue for about 10 years. Our primary focus has been to generate reliable information on the situation and raise awareness about this phenomenon through two publications: one on recruitment modalities and risk factors, and the other on the legal framework and public policies. From there, REDIM has been promoting the creation of a National Observatory for the Prevention of Recruitment, convened by the Ministry of Security and Citizen Protection, and integrated by other government institutions, civil society, academia, and United Nations organizations. The objective is to develop focused strategies for the prevention, care, and disengagement from recruitment.

Since the observatory started working in 2022, we have been promoting an agenda with two main lines of action. First, we are pushing for the typification of the crime of recruitment and use of children and adolescents by criminal groups in the Federal Penal Code. In Mexico, there is no crime of recruitment, and this allows criminal groups to recruit young people with impunity, seeing them as an opportunity to expand their ranks. The proposal developed with government institutions is to consider recruitment as an autonomous crime, separate from trafficking. Currently, recruitment is considered a form of trafficking, and we want it to be recognized as an autonomous crime. It is also important to explicitly recognize the recruited children as victims, which would allow them access to aid, assistance, comprehensive damage repair, and compensation.

At REDIM, we propose changing the focus on these young people, seeing them not as perpetrators but as victims recruited against their will. We consider recruitment to always be forced, even when no physical force is used. Often, recruitment occurs through social networks, the internet, deception, or false promises of work or love, especially in the case of girls. Recognizing them as victims is crucial, as it acknowledges their exploitation and the fact that they deserve protection and support.

We also need to consider different forms of participation by children in armed groups. Some activities are illegal, but others, like working as a cook or cleaner, though not illegal per se, still represent the exploitation of children by criminal groups. Therefore, we must recognize the various direct and indirect forms of participation. The observatory has advanced in proposing a legal definition for recruitment, but this proposal has not progressed in Congress, and we have not yet achieved this legislative change.

Another focus of the observatory has been addressing the lack of specific public policies or programs for the disengagement of recruited adolescents who have committed crimes. We are working on a disengagement route that utilizes existing institutional structures, adapting them to ensure effective coordination between institutions. This route can be applied within juvenile detention centers or outside if conditions allow for safe implementation. The disengagement process involves several stages: detecting the recruited child, conducting a risk analysis, developing a comprehensive plan including support networks and immediate needs, and providing psychosocial and medical care. Working with the family and community is essential to prepare for reintegration, alongside educational or vocational training for the adolescents.

Once the disengagement stage is complete, reintegration aims to make disengagement sustainable. We are in the final phase of developing this route, which will be approved by government agencies in the coming months. Then, we will move to the piloting and implementation phase. The challenge will be securing the necessary budget, personnel, and resources for its operation. This is the work we do at REDIM in collaboration with other organizations and agencies.

That concludes my presentation, and I am available for any questions or comments. Thank you.

Nelly: We still have some time for questions and I appreciate all of your presentations. Give like a very broad perspective of this issue. We talked about disarmament, demobilization and reintegration provisions. I want to ask how these DDR provisions will look if they are child center, if anyone wants to, please jump in. 

Sean: Yes, well, I think from my perspective in terms of the research that i've done very often, you have what can be quite comprehensive DDR programs, generally, but they are focused primarily at the adult level. Children are then added on in the sentence. And so as many of the panel guests have discussed, there's a whole host of factors which often explain why children join armed groups. It can be in many cases forced recruitment, but in other cases, it is a cultural thing it's to do with poverty. It's lack of education. It's a lack of prospects. And so a DDR program centered on children is one that really must be firstly context-specific, but address the specific aspects that really have contributed to children being recruited, whether it's forcibly recruited or whether it's voluntarily recruited. And I say voluntarily because obviously there are things pushing children to join. But crucially, and I think this is something that has been touched upon by all the panelists, what really matters there is the voice of child soldiers themselves in order to understand these reasons, and in order to get a context-specific awareness of the various, multifaceted reasons for recruitment, those views should really inform the DDR program that emerges, so that would be my view. 

Nelly: Thank you, Sean. We also have one question in the chat, and is for Valeria.
The question is, what is the purpose of dissociating recruitment from the crime of human trafficking? Mexico? One of the phases of human trafficking is the recruitment of victims through coercion, deception, force, among others, in order to exploit them. In this case, there is an exploitation of minors by criminal groups, either in forced criminality or in other related activities. Will this dissociation of recruitment from trafficking not also make it difficult for international comparison, where other countries consider this as trafficking for forced criminality?

Valeria: Yes, thank you for the question. Well, in reality, it is hardly applied. I mean, I don't know if the person who asked the question is from Mexico, but as you may know, this law in particular is rarely applied when it comes to the issue of recruitment. Not just from REDIM, but also from all the efforts we are making within the Observatory, which includes all the government agencies working on this issue, as well as UNICEF, Work Vision, if I remember correctly, and other organizations, we have reflected on the fact that we think recruitment is something different. It doesn't necessarily have to do with trafficking, not with human trafficking. That’s why we think it's important to give it more relevance by creating a specific crime for it.

This is something that some states in Mexico have already done or are in the process of doing at the state level. Mexico is a federal country, so this issue can also be decided at the state level, and some states have legislated on this matter. We believe it is important to give it its own relevance because it is a topic that has been quite invisible until now. Despite the efforts that exist, it is not a widely recognized issue. We believe that by specifically defining and clarifying the criminal aspect, it could help increase visibility and perhaps allow this regulation to be applied more often. Thank you.

Nelly: Thank you, Valeria. You also talk about how these child soldiers are detained and they're detained as National Security threats and often for their alleged association with so called terrorist or violent extremist groups. I would like to hear how this has happened, for example you Francesca, in the context of Lake Chad Basin. If you could talk a little bit more about this and if anyone wants to join and compliment this question, I will appreciate. 

Francesca: Thanks very much, Nelly. I didn't touch on the detention per se in the report. It is something that we know has occurred, but it is not something that we discuss openly because of the sensitivities we do, do interviews with children who have come through transit centers and DDR centers, for example, such as the Hajj camp in Maiduguri in the northeast of Nigeria and other transit centers. The purpose of these centers is to accommodate men, women and children who have come out of the groups while they are being temporarily sent back to their community. Well, it's a temporary situation that they find themselves in before they get sent back to the communities to allow for things such as screening to occur, but also for psychosocial support, health care support and food support as well. So we see the detention happening, but more in the sense of they're being held in transit centers as opposed to. 

Nelly: Thank you, Francesca. Valeria, Faviola, can you speak about the context of the detentions in Mexico?

Valeria: Well, in this case, there is no issue of terrorism in Mexico, as it is not a relevant topic here. Basically, they are detained because it is believed they have committed some crime, but we are talking about crimes like the sale of illegal substances, drug trafficking, retail drug dealing, homicide, kidnapping, extortion, or some type of crime related to a group, criminal groups. Here in Mexico, we are talking about organized crime, not terrorism, as that is a different matter.

We also don't call them child soldiers because they are not child soldiers. Instead, we call them children, adolescents recruited by criminal groups of various types, which can include organized crime or less organized armed groups of any kind. But we don’t talk much about that. In this sense, there is no issue of terrorism. Rather, when they are detained for committing a crime, many times these adolescents do not declare belonging to a certain group, a certain criminal group. This makes it difficult to understand how they joined, if they want to leave, or if they don't want to leave the group, because many do not want to talk.

Therefore, it is also difficult to hold adults accountable. That’s why I think the issue of defining recruitment as a crime is important, to make it easier to hold adults who recruit them accountable and not just the adolescent who was somehow forced to commit a certain crime, which is somewhat what happens now. We are focusing more on the issue of disassociating them from their groups, meaning that once the adolescent is detained and taken to a detention center where, for example, they have a custodial measure, this time in the center is not considered as punishment but rather as a way to prepare them for their return to society. We are working on these measures, as there are currently no specific measures for education, work, or support to help them learn a trade, and also preparing the family and community for their return if conditions allow. If conditions do not allow, then seeing if it is possible to move them somewhere else where they can be safer.

The main reason is that these children and adolescents do not want to talk about what has happened to them. They do not want to recognize themselves as part of the group or as victims because they are afraid, of course, of reprisals against their family or community. This is one of the challenges. I don't know if Faviola wants to add anything else.

Faviola: Yes, thank you Valeria and everyone. Well, I think it's also important to mention, and I totally agree, that the issue of terrorism in Mexico is not used in and of itself, not even within the legislative framework. The issue of terrorism in Mexico is well as it was mentioned, it's just the issue of the trafficking law, so to speak, in a general way, because the name is extensive, but there is the issue of the legislation on treatment, it talks about whether adults induce girls, boys, adolescents to commit crimes, but it does not specify what exactly can be very vague, it's like saying in half-words what things can even be within this legislative loophole and we have understood this even with other legislative issues regarding the rights of girls, boys, and adolescents, that if certain activities or actions are not explicitly mentioned, then it is very complicated, especially in a penal code that in Mexico is practically used to do this exercise of, well, yes, an exercise that is a little more legislative and also penal, well if it is not explicitly mentioned it is complicated to understand it in this way. I would also like to emphasize that the issue also has to be a little more integral in terms of the impact of armed groups and armed violence and organized crime itself within the lives of girls, boys, and adolescents, which of course is not to be taken lightly, the issue of recruitment and I would not call it forced recruitment, but recruitment, because we would also be entering into this paradigm of how to differentiate a little bit which girls and boys, adolescents may voluntarily join these groups, when the reality is that it is not so voluntary within the same socio-economic conditions and everything they are experiencing around them, their culture itself, the best, the living conditions, they have to join these groups. On the other hand, also one of the things we have done with these vocal groups at the time when they attend, were some of the situations that parents, teachers, told us about, these difficulties in reporting these types of cases, when it is detected that the girl or boy is no longer going to school and that it is already rumored or seen with certain type of people who already know who they are. And it is very complicated to make this exercise of reporting because there is no mechanism that also favors, let's say, the person who is going to make this report. I mean, precisely the issue of violence, even in some municipalities in the country, is no longer under the same control and we have cases like the Culiacanazo, for example, in Mexico, where a complicated situation arises against a criminal group and the entire city is set on fire. So these are issues that I think need to be addressed in a strategic, intelligent way and the truth is that this platform that is being created in Mexico with the federal government, well, I think it is the most intelligent and strategic way to address it together with civil society and the federal government to be able to address this problem.

Nelly: Thank you, Faviola. I see that Sean raised his hand, you can go ahead. 

Sean: Thanks a lot. I just had a quick question for Faviola and Valeria. In the context of civil wars, as I said before, the focus is primarily on those who recruit children and children are treated as victims. So even if a child commits a crime in the context of being a child soldier, they tend to be absolved of responsibility. You know, the prosecutorial efforts are directed at those who've recruited. And I was just wondering in the context of drug trafficking, if children are caught committing crimes, are they prosecuted or do they focus primarily on those who've procreated them? 

Valeria: Well, yes, indeed there is a system, which is a justice system for adolescents, where they are indeed considered as perpetrators of a crime and that's why they are subjected to a measure that can be either depriving them of their liberty or not, depending on the seriousness of the crime they have committed. This is the change we want to make, to change this approach a bit and for these measures to consider the adolescent in that case as a victim and not simply as a perpetrator. But so far, unlike child soldiers, they are considered as perpetrators of a crime and they go through the adolescent justice system, which of course is a more friendly system, it is not a system like the adult system, but in any case, in many cases, they are interned in detention centers and can have sentences that normally go up to about five years more or less. And precisely what we are trying to do is to make these systems as friendly as possible during that time and that there they can be given educational, work, training, and vocational measures so that this time there can prepare them for their reintegration into society.

Nelly: I appreciate the insights from all our panelists Sean, Valeria, Francesca and Faviola, as well as the support of all the organizations coordinating this panel. Thank you and have a great rest of your day. 

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