Alumna Shares Latest Efforts in Fight to Stop Use of Child Soldiers

By Alveena Bakhshi '03SIPA

Bakhshi, a finance and technology expert, is an advocate for Child Soldiers International, a group that aims to end all recruitment, use, and exploitation of children by armed forces. She also is an adviser to the School of International of Public Affairs (SIPA) Dean's Public Policy Challenge Grant. In a follow-up to her 2017 piece about her work with the organization, she shares details about the latest technology the group is using in its efforts.

The first-ever interactive Child Soldiers World Index launched in February at the United Nations (UN) by Child Soldiers International (CSI). The Index has full details on the national legal framework, policies, and practices of all 197 UN Member States regardless of whether or not they have ratified OPAC, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. CSI remains the guardian of this research since inception, and transforming it into an online database is just the first step.

The cause to stop the use of child soldiers is close to my heart, as I have witnessed terrorism and the recruitment of child soldiers in India. Today, when we sidestep the discussion on gun violence, I vividly recall the uprising at Tiananmen Square and dissolution of the former Soviet bloc and Germany. When we came to SIPA in 2001 on the eve of 9/11 for orientation, we did not know what was coming. At our Reunion a few weeks ago, we recalled having coffee at Amsterdam Deli and commiserated on how our class changed forever.

My association with CSI and its exceptional team is two years old. During this time, I have seen what it accomplishes by way of research and advocacy alone. Trying to bring the full weight of new technologies to support this lean team is something I am passionate about. The fact remains that 46 states still recruit child soldiers in their armed forces, and there have been at least 18 conflict situations in which children have participated in hostilities since 2016. These statistics do not capture the recruitment done by terrorist outfits.

This digital platform makes information accessible to people in all corners of the world and is used equally by grassroots organizations working directly with affected communities, for projects like Make Home Home Again for returning girl child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, by policymakers at a government level, or peers across the international NGO community. As the nature of armed conflict is ever evolving, the World Index is well placed to react to these changes, and its online presence means better responsiveness. 

CSI_AB.jpg                                                         (The author along with a photo of the Index)

The objective of developing the World Index has been to make it available to all, and so it was important that the content was not locked behind a paywall or registration portal. In doing so, there was no bias toward particular fields or geographies. The Index includes more than 10,000 data points, therefore an open approach to data, which ranges from verified cases of child recruitment and exploitation to international laws and details on related criminal proceedings, not only increases engagement but also collaboration.

"Collaboration is critical to the Index," CSI Director of Operations Carol Steel said. "It supports existing data mapped by either CSI's own first-hand research or from reputable sources such as the UN and Human Rights Watch or BBC and other media. Where accuracy and being truthful is key, filtering out potentially bogus figures and information is crucial. The strict data usage guidelines CSI adopted means such concerns have been alleviated with the World Index. The aim is to develop it even further with layers of additional information."

Blockchains peer-to-peer technology facilitates data transfer via a decentralized network. It is secure and helps create a governance-based foundation. With multiple actors and legal constraints, it provides stewardship and restores trust in institutions. It is able to help combat child recruitment on the world stage by actively monitoring and reporting. With the paucity of resources and need to mobilize these to the area of most need, it's a game-changer in the fight to stop the use of child soldiers worldwide.

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