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Safeguarding Children in Peacekeeping Operations

Principal Investigator: 

Professor Rosa Freedman, University of Reading


UN peacekeeping operations conduct invaluable work in protecting civilians, peace-building and state-building around the world. Yet a very small minority of the more than 100,000 UN peacekeepers deployed every year commit sexual offences that harm the very people they were sent to protect. Despite many attempts to address and reform the system for prevention and accountability, much work remains to be done.

This project tackles one thematic issue of peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse – how to protect and safeguard children in peacekeeping operations. Deploying interdisciplinary methods and lenses, working with a network of civil society organisations within host countries and troop-contributing countries, and through work with the UN and member states, the project will focus on a range of prevention, awareness-raising, and safeguarding strategies that will enhance the protection of children in such contexts.

Project Update

There is a need for system-wide reform to ensure that such abuses cannot again occur with widespread impunity. Despite recent measures announced by the new UN Secretary-General, attempts to reform the system have been piecemeal and have not addressed a complex problem that requires nuanced and targeted responses. While there is general agreement at the UN, in member states, and from civil society, about what needs to be done to address the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, very few practical solutions have been proposed let alone implemented.

A key problem is that the current laws, policies and practices to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse operate across different scales, including at the international level, at the UN level, at the local level where the peacekeeping operation is being carried out, and within the countries that contribute troops to peacekeeping operations. As a result, very few effective solutions have been designed that can address the causes and consequences of peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse.

The project team has designed, and are now testing and implementing, an effective solution that can be adapted for use in all peacekeeping operations. Our research demonstrates that work across and involving all those scales can produce effective practical solutions to discrete aspects of this difficult problem. The research that we have conducted provides a robust methodology for implementing solutions to safeguard children in peacekeeping contexts. Our toolkit provides prevention, protection and safeguarding specifically in relation to children within peacekeeping.

The toolkit builds upon research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and by the British Academy. The research provides the evidence-base for how to safeguard children from peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse. It is based on: desk research on law, human rights, and political science; qualitative data gathered from field research; and work with stakeholders. This creates a context-specific toolkit for Peacekeeping Training Centres and for Troop-Contributing Countries.

Using interdisciplinary research and through working with a comprehensive group of stakeholders, we have created an evidence-base for recommendations necessary to drive forward the research and policy agenda. The toolkit, versions of which have been implemented successfully in thousands of organisations in nearly every country in the world, is based on international standards for child safeguarding, and is implemented within an organisation through: (i) a self-assessment of current policies and practices, (ii) a robust mapping of relevant local and international laws and practices on child safeguarding, (iii) developing context-specific policies, measures and procedures based on the organisation and the legal mapping, (iv) training, and (v) follow-up.

To find out more about Professor Freedman's project, click here:

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