Childrens Rights at Sea

Photo Credits
U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bryan Weyers | U.S. Navy Photo | UN Photo by Tobin Jones | AP Photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh
Supplied by the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, Canada


Human Rights at Sea is working with the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

for matters concerning maritime abuses towards children




About the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative was founded in 2007 by retired Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire, former force commander of the UN peace operation deployed during the Rwandan genocide (UNAMIR). Its mission is to develop new strategies and tactics for eradicating the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide.

To achieve this crucial objective, the Dallaire Initiative conducts programming on three fronts:

  1. It pursues rigorous, innovative research at Dalhousie University, a world-class academic institution based in Halifax, Canada;
  2. It engages in high-level advocacy to promote universal adherence to all international conventions to prohibit the use of children in war;
  3. I It delivers scenario-based, prevention-oriented training to security sector actors.


The Dallaire Initiative and Child Maritime Piracy

In 2012, while conducting groundbreaking research on the nexus between child trafficking and child soldiering, the Dallaire Initiative began to formulate a bold hypothesis: children involved in criminal activities during times of peace are at markedly higher risk of being recruited during times of war. This is not to say that all child criminals have invariably been the victims of trafficking; indeed, peer pressure and socioeconomic desperation may well encourage a child to “voluntarily” participate in criminal acts. Yet once a child has entered the criminal sphere, the ease with which he or she might subsequently transition to an armed group may well increase.

This dynamic makes intuitive sense. All of the various characteristics that render a child vulnerable to criminality – such as poverty, orphanhood, displacement, political instability and poor access to quality education – will also render him or her vulnerable to recruitment by armed forces or groups. Additionally, the skills that a child labourer, prostitute, gang member or pirate might acquire during peacetime are of profound strategic and tactical value to unscrupulous adult commanders during war. As opportunity costs shift when a weak state slips into armed conflict, a child criminal could very easily be induced to become a child soldier.

This interplay illustrates why the Dallaire Initiative has elected to conduct work on the issue of child maritime piracy. In striving to provide maritime security sector actors with the necessary tools to combat child piracy during times of peace, the Dallaire Initiative is indirectly helping to eradicate the possibility of children’s recruitment during times of war.


Child Maritime Piracy and the Security Sector

In every aspect of its programming, the Dallaire Initiative seeks to collaborate with concerned governments, security sector actors, academics, humanitarians and civilian communities. In particular, the Dallaire Initiative’s unique approach to working with militaries, police, prison personnel and private security operators – many of whom are the first point of contact for child soldiers outside of their armed force or group – is both unprecedented and critical to the interruption of children’s recruitment.

On the issue of child maritime piracy, the Dallaire Initiative has discerned that there are presently no legal instruments in place to prescribe the proper custody of captured child pirates. Likewise, naval and private security personnel currently receive no formal training to prepare for interactions with children at sea. These marked gaps are contributing to the entrenchment of an unproductive “catch-and-release” strategy – a practice that actually incentivises children’s recruitment and use – as well as to children’s inappropriate incarceration alongside adults. This is why the Dallaire Initiative has chosen to lend its enthusiastic support to 9 Bedford Row’s “Human Rights at Sea” project.

Over the coming months, the Dallaire Initiative will be conducting several research missions to places where child soldiering and child maritime piracy intersect, including East Africa, West Africa and South-East Asia. The intelligence that the Dallaire Initiative collects from its interviews with key experts and stakeholders will subsequently inform the creation of optional standard operating procedures (SOPs) for navies and private maritime security companies (PMSCs) tasked with effecting the ethical restraint, detention, interview and transfer of child pirates at sea. Crucially, the Dallaire Initiative seeks to design these SOPs in cooperation with PMSCs, child protection specialists and the merchant shipping community. If said SOPs are to be of any practical use, they must strike a realistic balance between the fundamental rights of the child, the basic safety of the sailor and the idiosyncratic constraints inherent to operations at sea.

At the same time, the Dallaire Initiative – in collaboration with local partners – will seek to design and propagate a counter-piracy radio programme aimed at Somali parents and vulnerable youth. The purpose of this programme will be to convey the serious risks associated with child piracy and to dissuade children from joining pirate groups in the first instance.


Download Preview of: Children Used In Maritime Piracy: A Handbook for Maritime Security Sector Actors

 “I am delighted to endorse this well-drafted and comprehensive publication ‘Children Affected by Maritime Piracy: A Handbook for Maritime Security Sector Actors‘ which is filling an important information and advocacy gap in the maritime sector. I am aware of the exhaustive efforts that have gone into finalising this peer-reviewed publication and the team at The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative should be congratulated for their tenacity in its delivery. Specifically, I was struck by the plain-English sample Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for reporting human rights abuses against children and identification of indicators for traumatic stress in children, to highlight just two areas of the publication’s coverage. A must-read for all maritime security sector actors.”

David Hammond, CEO Human Rights at Sea



Darin Reeves, Director of Training
The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

My first encounter with maritime piracy, and in particular with children associated with maritime piracy, occurred in 1995 while sailing onboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship FREDERICTON. As the Officer of the Watch and ship’s Boarding Officer, on the 5th of April I was navigating the Ship as we sailed west through the Gulf of Aden enroute for the Suez Canal and return home to Canada. Just after 0800 that morning I was informed that we had received a distress call from an sailing vessel, the Longo Barda, who reported they were under attack by pirates and required assistance. The FREDERICTON immediately responded and sailed at best speed to the Longo Barda, who was over 100 NM distant and transiting the waters off the coast of Somalia.

As the FREDERICTON boarding Officer I was ordered to prepare my team to board the pirate vessel if required, and in any event to embark the Longo Barda once we arrived to ensure the vessel remained sea worthy and that all aboard were well. As we arrived on scene we could see the pirate vessel departing at best speed, so we took up position with the Longo Barda and for the next 24 hours escorted her out of the area. While embarked in Longo Barda and speaking with her master and crew, they told me of the pirates attempts to board them and of the presence of several very young boys within the pirate crew.

Having never received training, or even forewarning that children were being used by maritime pirates in this fashion, I and the rest of my boarding team were quite shocked at this news. We had prepared to defend the sailing vessel, by force if necessary, but had never contemplated having to use that force against children. Similarly, had we subdued the pirates and had to detain them in order to turn them over to a suitable authority, we had no provision in place to take proper care of children among the pirates.

In the many years since this event, incidents of maritime piracy involving children have been repeatedly documented in the Gulf of Aden and other maritime piracy infested waters. Yet in this intervening time, little if any effort has been made to better prepare either naval forces, or merchant mariners, with regards to children associated with maritime piracy. It is this glaring oversight, and the desire to better prepare our mariners both civilian and military as well as to protect these abused children, that has propelled the creation of the Children Associated with Maritime Piracy Handbook. Ultimately we at the Dallaire Initiative would like to see training on this phenomena incorporated into mainstream training for all mariners, with the goal of stopping the recruitment and use of children within maritime piracy and ending this horrific abuse of children.




Key References

“Child Pirates: Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Accountability” by Mark Drumbl

“Child Pirates from Somalia: A Call for the International Community to Support the Further Development of Juvenile Justice Systems in Puntland and Somaliland” by Danielle Fritz

“Juvenile Justice and Piracy: Prosecutions of Juvenile Pirates in the United States” by Lauren Hahn

Child Maritime Piracy Magazine and Newspaper Articles

“Protecting the Rights of Children Suspected of Piracy” by Girija Shettar

“The Invisible Phenomenon of Child Piracy” by Carl Conradi

“Child Pirates Are Everybody’s Problem” by Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d.), Dr. Shelly Whitman and Hugh Williamson

“Torture? Execution? German Justice Through the Eyes of a Somali Pirate” by Beate Lakotta

“25 of 61 pirates Arrested by Navy at Sea at Children Below 15 Yrs.” by Rajat Pandit

“14 Indicted for Piracy Over US Yacht Killings” by the Associated Press