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COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES WITHIN UNITED NATIONS - The case of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict on child soldiers
Language: English This thesis is written in English
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Pietro Licini, Università degli Studi di Bergamo, 2016-17
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Academic area
Social and Political Sciences
The idea behind this work generated during my four-months Public Information Internship at the United Nations (UN) Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG CAAC), located in the UN Headquarters in New York City.

The Office of the SRSG CAAC serves to protect the rights of children affected by war, with a special focus on the release and reintegration of child soldiers. The mission of its mandate is put in practice with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which has a pivotal role particularly in relation to field missions.

At the outset, it must be said that the present work does not intend to focus on the political aspects of the issue of child soldiers, nor on the conduct of United Nations in this regard. Rather, after a necessary introduction to key concepts, it aims at providing a communication-based analysis of the UN’s work, taking the OSRSG CAAC as a specific case study.

This thesis argues that, despite its being a nonprofit organization, United Nations efforts to bring about an end to child recruitment can be analyzed not only through a communication perspective, but also with an actual marketing-oriented approach. Even though nonprofit organizations such as the UN do not seek to increment their profit, they do have a mission and specific goals – whether it is preventing sexual violence, fighting diseases, further development, or “maintaining international peace and security”.

1 Any of these goals are ultimately achieved by influencing relevant people (or stakeholders, in marketing jargon). Thus, both profit and nonprofit organizations “are in the behavioral influence business, and that is precisely what marketing is all about”.

2 In fact, the marketing discipline in none other than psychology and communications principles, applied to economy and used by its actors – typically profit organizations. But the fact that normally these principles are used to sell cookies or to persuade that an eau de toilette has aphrodisiac power it is just a contingency, not a necessary condition. Marketing strategies can be used – and should be used, I argue – also by any organization that aims at influencing defined targets in order to achieve specific goals. And, in this respect, United Nations makes no exception in its attempt to stop the plague of child soldiers.

The thesis is structured in six chapters. The first one will introduce the reader to the issue of child soldiering, ranging between the official definitions supported by the UN and NGOs, and alternative perspectives provided by different scholars. The second and the third chapters will respectively provide an historical and a legal overview of the role of children in war, exploring past, present, and future trajectories. The fourth chapter will examine the evolution of the political communication landscape to the present days, preparing the ground for the fifth chapter, which will investigate the work of the UN in terms of communication. The sixth and last chapter is a communication-based case study of the work of the UN OSRSG CAAC in relation to its two-decade long fight against child recruitment and use.