The WebQuest: Step-By-Step
The WebQuest: Step-By-Step
Step #1: Setting Age Limits
This step asks students to examine the age limitations that societies place on various activities—using their own countries as a starting point. They then state their own opinions regarding age and gender limitations for various military tasks. This way, students have an opportunity to form and share their own opinions before being presented with policies established by international treaties. This step can be completed in one class session.
Step #1 Activities:
Activities in Your Country—Age by Age
Military Activities Age Chart
Teacher’s Tip: Bookmark Web sites in advance that contain information on age limitations within your country/state. The first activity asks students to identify the age limitations for a number of things—opening a bank account, driving, drinking alcohol, buying a gun, holding elected office, and getting married. By bookmarking reliable and authoritative Web sites that cover this information in advance, you’ll be able to help students separate fact from rumour—and save class time in the process.
Talk About: How to determine authoritative Web sites from non-authoritative ones. While this WebQuest can be completed using its direct links to authoritative online resources, ultimately your students will need to be able to discern reliable online resources from non-reliable ones on their own. Modeling the process you went through to identify the authoritative Web sites that you’ve bookmarked is one way to help them gain that skill.
Step #2: Exploring Children's Human Rights
Step #2 Activity:
This step introduces students to background information on international law regarding the human rights of the child. Students examine the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and The Optional Protocol (OP). They then compare the decisions they made in Step #1 to the policies established in these human rights treaties. Depending on the reading and analytical skills of your students, this step may take more than one class session to complete.
Rubric for scoring provided (download PDF file)
Share the scoring rubric in advance with the students, so that they’ll know exactly how their work will be judged—and what they need to do in order to score well.
Background Info: The CRC sets the minimum compulsory age of military recruitment at 15 years. The OP raises the minimum age for compulsory recruitment to 18 years and sets guidelines for voluntary recruitment into the armed forces as well—something that the CRC did not address at all. While the OP allows that the minimum age for voluntary recruitment can be lower than 18 years, it requires that it had to be older than 15 years:
“States Parties shall raise in years the minimum age for the
voluntary recruitment of persons into their national armed forces
from that set out in article 38, paragraph 3, of the Convention
on the Rights of the Child (15 years of age)…”
The OP goes on to say that children under the age of 18 may not be directly involved in combat, even if they have volunteered for military duty. It also states that those under 18 years of age may only volunteer for governmental military duty—that no one under the age of 18 may serve in rebel or revolutionary armed forces. NOTE: Some countries have set the minimum age that children can volunteer as young as 16 years, many others have raised both the compulsory and voluntary age requirements to 18 years.
Inside Info: How do international treaties become legally binding?
When looking at the list of countries that are legally bound by the CRC and/or OP, students may notice that some countries have both signed and ratified the treaty, while others have only signed it or only ratified it. In order to make sense of this, it is important to understand how a treaty becomes international law. Here is a brief summary of the steps involved in making the CRC and OP international human rights treaties:
Teachers’ Tip: Read the various Declarations and Reservations deposited by States that have ratified or acceded to the CRC and OP.
Step 1: The terms of the CRC and OP were drafted and then adopted by the United Nation’s General Assembly. The CRC was adopted in 1989; the OP was adopted in 2000.
NOTE: A treaty does not enter in force when it is adopted by the General Assembly. Rather, it must be ratified by a set number of Member States in order to become legally binding.
Step 2: Once a treaty has been adopted, it is “open for signature” for a limited period of time. Each treaty explains which countries are allowed to sign it and the process by which States can become a Party to the treaty. Most treaties call for States to sign and ratify a treaty in order for it to become international law. The CRC was open for signature by all States, while the OP was only open for signature by States that had signed or ratified the CRC.
A treaty can be signed by a Head of State, Minister of Foreign Affairs, or other individuals, like Ambassadors, who have been authorized by the Head of State or Minister to sign. The signing of a treaty is often accompanied by big ceremony in order to build momentum and worldwide interest. When a country signs a treaty, it is indicating its willingness to be bound by the terms of that treaty.
Step 3: A country is not legally bound by the treaty until it ratifies it. In order to ratify a treaty a State must:
- Determine whether or not the terms of the treaty are in conflict with its existing laws. If the treaty conflicts with national law, the country has to modify its laws in order to remove the conflict. Needless to say, this can take a while. That’s why there are rarely time limits set on the ratification process, although there may be benchmark dates for certain aspects of the process.
- Deposit an Instrument of Ratification, Acceptance or Approval at the United Nation’s Secretary General’s office. These documents identify the treaty, contain a statement about the country’s willingness to be bound by the terms of the treaty, and include the name and title of the authorized person who’s signing it, and the date it is signed.
Note: Sometimes a country misses the deadline to sign a treaty, but still wants to be a party to it. In that case, the country can “accede” to the treaty. It still puts the treaty through its legislative process, but it files an Instrument of Accession instead of an Instrument of Ratification, Acceptance or Approval. Countries that acceded to the CRC and OP are listed as having ratified the treaty but are not listed as having signed it.
Step 4: Each treaty states how many countries must deposit an Instrument of Ratification or Accession in order for the treaty to enter in force. The CRC, for example, required a minimum of 20 instruments and the OP only required a minimum of 10 instruments to be deposited in order for these treaties to be considered legally binding on the States that ratified them.
Note: At the time of ratification, a country can make a Declaration which clarifies their understanding of certain aspects of the treaty. For instance, according to Article 4 of the OP, States that have consented to be bound by this treaty “…shall take all feasible measures…” to prevent children under 18 years of age from being recruited or used to fight in combat. As the treaty does not define what it means by “feasible measures,” some States that have ratified the OP have deposited Declarations which clarify what this phrase means to them. Sometimes a treaty includes a mandatory Declaration that ratifying countries must make, such as the OP did on the issue of a minimum age for voluntary military recruitment. And so when each State deposits its Instrument of Ratification or Accession, it must also deposit a binding declaration establishing the minimum age for voluntary recruitment of children into military service.
Some treaties, often human rights treaties, allow States to deposit Reservations they have about certain aspects of the treaty. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties defines a Reservation to a treaty as "a unilateral statement, however phrased or named, made by a State, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty, whereby it purports to exclude or to modify the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in their application to that State." A Reservation must be deposited along with the Instrument of Ratification or Accession, and must not be incompatible with the goals and purposes of the treaty.
Any State that is party to a treaty has the right to accept, object, or oppose a reservation that is deposited by another State. When a State deposits a reservation, it is not legally bound by the treaty until at least one other State Party accepts its reservation.
Note: The US is the only country to have ratified the OP and not the CRC.
Talk About: Why would a country sign, but not ratify a treat? Why would it ratify, but not sign it? How might the Reservations deposited during the ratification process for the CRC led to the drafting of the OP? By asking students these questions, you can share with them the steps of the ratification process, and illustrate the how policies are set and established in an international forum.
Step #3: Choosing a Country to Study
In this step, the students research a number of countries where child soldiers are either being recruited for military service, or actively participating in an armed conflict. The class will review the preliminary research and make a decision as to which country they’ll explore in greater depth. This step will take more than one class session to complete, as it includes both research and presentations.
Step #3 Activity:
Brief Presentation recommending a country to study
Inside Info: What is the relationship between the countries the groups are researching, and the international treaties they’ve just studied? As students do their research, they should keep the following questions in mind:
- Have the countries you’re researching signed and/or ratified the CRC and the OP?
- What are the minimum ages for compulsory and volunteer recruitment based on the treaties the countries you’re researching have signed or ratified?
- Is there any evidence that child soldiers are being used by rebel groups fighting against the government?
- What do the treaties the country you’re representing has signed or ratified stipulate about the use of children under the age of 18 by rebel groups fighting against the government?
The answers to these questions will most likely have an impact on the kinds of policies that the students will be proposing. For example, whether or not the country that is chosen for study has ratified the CRC and/or the OP will have an impact on the age requirements for both compulsory and voluntary military recruitment:
- If a country has ratified the CRC and not the OP, then children as young as 15 can be recruited into either governmental or anti-governmental armed forces.
- If a country has ratified the OP, then no one under the age of 18 can be used by rebel groups fighting against the government—regardless of whatever minimum age for voluntary recruitment has been established by the government.
Talk About: What makes a country a good one to explore in-depth? Does the country have to be currently using child soldiers? Or is there something to learn in regions where the use of child soldiers has recently ended? How much information about the country and its situation is readily accessible through authoritative online resources? What aspects of the country’s use of child soldiers makes it unique or raises different issues from another country’s use?
Teachers’ Tip: Decide in advance how the students will share their findings and select a country to study as a class. Do you want students to give short presentations? Create posters, political cartoons or other graphic ways to highlight why the country they’ve researched would (or would not) be a good one for the class to study in-depth? Do you have another way for students to share their findings?
Teachers’ Tip: Have a plan for deciding which country will be explored in-depth. The country your class chooses to study will give the WebQuest a concrete context and have an impact on the policies they develop later. You may want to lead the class so that they focus on a country that they are—or will be—studying in other parts of their curriculum. Or, you could have the class vote on a country once all students have shared their initial research.
Step #4: Researching Why Child Soldiers Are Used
Now that your class has picked a country to focus on, students examine the reasons child soldiers are being used by that country. They share that information, and explore it in-depth through a variety of role-plays. This step will take more than one class session to complete, as it includes both research and role-playing activities.
Step #4 Activities:
Teachers’ Tip: Share the scoring rubric with students in advance. This way, students will know exactly on what their work will be judged—and what they need to do in order to score well on both the research and presentation aspects of the assignment.
Talk About: How does geography, climate, and population growth play roles in the conflict? What are the implications of these factors on potential policies? By exploring these issues, your class can begin to explore more realistic solutions than if they focus on the political aspects alone. Policy recommendations that work in one location might not work in another, especially if they ignore that area’s geography, climate, and population growth.
Step #5: Developing a Policy
In this step, students simulate, or role-play, how governments develop policies—in particular policies on child soldiers. This step will take more than one class session to complete, as it involves teamwork, research, and proposal drafting.
The students are divided into six teams:
- Children & Parents
- Criminal Court Judges
- Finance and Trade Advisors
- Human Rights Activists
- Mental Health Professionals
- Military Advisors
Each team examines the problem of child soldiers from a different perspective and develops its own policy recommendations using the resources provided in each group’s section.
Step #5 Activities:
- Reading/viewing various online resources as a team
- Role-Play: Developing a policy
- Printable report on “What Should Be Done About Child Soldiers?”
Share the main ideas chart and scoring rubric with the students as they are drafting their proposals so that they’ll know exactly how their work will be judged—and what they need to do in order to score well.
Teachers’ Tip: Assign teams by the amount of work covered, not by the total number of teams.
Review the work required of each team before deciding on the number of students to assign to each. As the number of activities and questions varies considerably between the different teams, some teams may need more members, while others may need fewer. For instance, the “Children and Parents” team has 8 activities and 12 questions to answer, while “Finance and Trade Advisors” have 4 activities and 8 questions to answer.
Inside Info: Where on the Unicef Web site is the information on the country’s military, education and health spending? It is located on the "Info by Country" section of UNICEF's Web site, and can be hard to find. First you (or the students) need to select the country that the class is studying. Then click on "Statistics" and scroll down to the chart labeled "Economics."
Depending on the age of your students, and their familiarity with online research, you may choose to bookmark the link for them in advance. That way, students can access the information quickly and easily.
Inside Info: Did the country ratify the OP? If so, what was the minimum age set for voluntary recruitment by the country in its declaration? Students might need to be reminded to scroll through the list of declarations in order to identify the minimum age requirement—just identifying whether or not the country had ratified the OP is not sufficient.
Talk About: Are there online resources used by only one or two groups that you feel should be shared with the whole class? Do any of the UN resources relate to the students’ work in other subjects?
Review all the resources in advance to see if there are any that you want the entire class to experience. For example, you might want everyone to explore Unicef’s profiles of children from their 2006 State of the World’s Children report. Explain to the class why you want everyone to experience these resources.
Also feel free to expand the use of resources that you and the class find compelling beyond the scope of this WebQuest. For example, you may want to work with the Literature or speech teacher and have the class do a staged reading of the play The Voices of Children at War. Or, the students may want to use it in a school assembly.
Step #6: Conducting a Legislative Assembly
In this step students are introduced to the legislative and negotiation process. Students will need to:
- Present their team’s policy recommendations
- Answer the other teams’ questions about those recommendations
- Ask clarifying questions of other teams’ policy recommendations
- Work as a class to decide on a policy regarding child soldiers for the country that they have been studying
Once all the presentations have been made, and each team has been given a chance to make revisions in their policy recommendations based on the class’s feedback, all of the recommendations are then combined into one document. Everyone in the class should have a copy of the final document. Depending on how in-depth the Question and Answer sessions are, this step may take more than one class session to complete.
Step #6 Activity:
Role-Play: The Legislative Assembly
Main Ideas chart provided (download PDF file)
Rubric for scoring provided (download PDF file)
Talk About: Which teams might have similar concerns? Which teams might have opposite concerns? How do different groups’ recommendations impact each other? Use the Main Issues chart to facilitate discussion and enliven the Q and A part of the Legislative Assembly. It’s colour-coded so that you can tell at a glance which groups are addressing similar, or related, issues. Use it to:
- Call on groups to comment or question when the presenting group has explored a similar aspect of an issue. Some examples of this are:
- Criminal Court Judges and Military Advisors both explored how children who have fought in rebel groups should be treated. However, Criminal Court Judges also considered the different types of child soldiers as well as the extenuating circumstances that could lead to their recruitment.
- Children and Parents and Mental Health Professionals explored existing rehabilitation programs for child soldiers, while the Criminal Court Judges explored the role rehabilitation should take within the judicial process.
- All groups except Finance and Trade Advisors looked at the country’s ratification status of the CRC and OP to establish the legal minimum age by which children can serve in the military. Most of the groups were discovering if the country was in violation of the treaties, while Mental Health Professionals were deciding if the treaties’ limitations are age-appropriate or sufficient.
- Ask those whose policy recommendations may be impacted by the presenting group’s policy for their thoughts or concerns. Some examples of this are:
- All groups except Criminal Court Judges explored how the country allocates its spending for military, education, and health services and made recommendations for changing those allocations. Do Military Advisors have a different idea as to how those funds should be reapportioned than Finance and Trade Advisors? Than Children and Parents? Do the Human Rights Advocates have different ideas on the reallocation of the funds than Mental Health Professionals? How might two groups with apparently divergent interests be convinced to reallocate the funding in a similar way?
- Both Finance and Trade Advisors and Children and Parents explore the role of poverty on society, but one’s from the perspective of the nation’s financial health, while other’s from an individual’s point of view.
- Help the class make the connection between the different groups’ reading assignments, points of view, and concerns.
Teachers’ Tip: Set guidelines for closure.
You and your students must decide whether to accept the policy recommendations as they are presented by each team, or to use the document to encourage further discussion and debate. If you decide to continue, you will need to establish some ground rules for extending your legislative assembly, including:
- Determining how the document will be debated:
- Will students be given an opportunity to state the reasons why they support or don’t support the document? If so, establish time limits for them to do this.
- Will the debate focus on the whole document, or be divided into sections?
- Deciding how many students need to be in favour of the recommendations in order for them to be adopted.
If possible, have your students research the legislative process in the country they have been studying for guidance.
Step #7: Taking Action
In this step, students are introduced to different ways that they can take action on the issue of child soldiers—both in their country and around the world. You may want to use this final step as an open forum for students to express their views on this issue, and discuss different ways to solve the problem. How students complete the activities in Step #7 is completely up to you. You can have students work on individual projects, work in teams or small groups, or complete a single class project together. The number of projects, and their depth and scope will determine how many class sessions are necessary to complete this step.
Step #7 Activity:
Students review a number of options they can do to "take action." They choose one, or come up with one of their own.
Felicity O. Yost. Source:
Marie, In the Shadow of the Lion, by Jerry Piasecki. ©
United Nations, 2001