UN Security Council Summoned to Protect Children in Conflict
UN Photo/Manuel Elias
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Virginia Gamba, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told the Security Council that the number of violations against conflict-affected children increased from 2017 to 2018.

Mariatu Kamara, UNICEF Canada Ambassador, warned UN Security Council members that doing nothing to address the needs of children emerging from conflict situations will only generate more conflict.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, emphasized that protecting the lives and futures of children affected by armed conflict is "in our collective self-interest".

2 August 2019: More than 80 UN Member States expressed concern about the effects on children of ongoing conflicts, and discussed efforts needed to address these children’s needs, with many supporting enhanced efforts for their reintegration in society. The UN Security Council held an open debate on children and armed conflict and considered a report of the UN Secretary-General on the topic.

The report, launched on 30 July 2019, shows that:

  • more than 12,000 children were killed or maimed in 2018;
  • children continue to be used in combat, particularly in Somalia, Nigeria and Syria;
  • more than 7,000 children were drawn into frontline fighting roles around the world in 2018 alone;
  • attacks on schools and hospitals have decreased overall, but have intensified in some conflict situations, such as Afghanistan and Syria, which has seen the highest number of such attacks since the beginning of the conflict in the country;
  • rather than being seen as victims of recruitment, in 2018 thousands of children were detained for their actual or alleged association with armed groups, and in Syria and Iraq the majority of children deprived of their liberty are under the age of five; and
  • the number of children benefiting from release and reintegration support rose to 13,600 in 2018, up from 12,000 in 2017.

The report calls for increased resources and funding to meet the growing needs, as more children are separated from armed groups.

The UN Security Council debate took place on 2 August 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, with delegates emphasizing the plight of tens of thousands of children detained in war-affected countries and 420 million others who are growing up in conflict-affected places. Many called for the Security Council to do more to ensure that children enjoy their right to be protected.

Opening the debate, Virginia Gamba, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, noted recent gains, including the signing of action plans with non-state actors and agreements with UN Member States and key stakeholders to galvanize protection efforts. She said the report contains country-level updates and assesses progress on eliminating the six grave violations against children: killing and maiming children; recruiting or using them as soldiers; sexual violence against them; abduction; attacks against schools or hospitals; and denying humanitarian access to children.

Unfortunately, Gamba said, the situation is not improving and in some areas it is worsening, pointing out that the 24,000 violations against conflict-affected children documented in 2018 represents an increase from 21,000 in 2017. She noted that rape and other forms of sexual violence are often underreported, and greater accountability mechanisms could significantly advance progress in this area.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UN Fund for Children (UNICEF), expressed concern about the tens of thousands of children associated with armed groups and currently trapped in camps, detention centers and orphanages in Iraq, Syria and other countries. She emphasized that when children leave these situations, they should receive “urgently needed protection and humanitarian assistance… instead of being ostracized, rejected and locked up.” She added that protecting the lives and futures of children affected by armed conflict “is not just the right thing to do, it is in our collective self-interest.”

Mariatu Kamara, UNICEF Canada Ambassador, recounted her story of abduction, mutilation and survival following a 1999 rebel attack on her village in Sierra Leone. Kamara warned Security Council members that doing nothing to address the needs of children emerging from conflict situations will only generate more conflict.

Majok Peter Awan, a child protection professional, recalled how he was recruited at age 7, in 1979, by a local rebel group fighting the Khartoum Government in what is now South Sudan. He urged the Security Council to ensure children get the support they need to heal, both physically and psychologically, through child protection programming, including individualized psychosocial support, education and livelihoods opportunities.

In the ensuing discussion, Jacek Czaputowicz, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Poland, and UN Security Council President for August, highlighted that even though the Council has agreed on several resolutions dealing with children in armed conflict situations since 1998, it still struggles over providing the right level of protection. He noted that the Secretary-General’s report identifies more than 20 countries with verified cases of grave violations against children, with “an alarming number of instances” involving state actors. He called for the protection of children to be taken into account in all phases of the conflict cycle.

Belgium expressed alarm at the use of humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war, adding, together with Germany, the Dominican Republic and others, that peacekeeping operations and special political missions should include capacity for protecting children. China called for “full attention” to be given to the protection of children in political negotiations and peace agreements.

Côte d’Ivoire presented the successful example of his country, which was the first to be removed from the UN Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict thanks to an effective action plan established in collaboration with the UN. He explained that the plan focused on the release and reintegration of thousands of children, and incorporating protection and children’s rights into military training modules.

Kuwait, Russia, US and Viet Nam emphasized that governments bear the primary responsibility when it comes to protecting children in armed conflicts. Russia called for focusing on the six categories of violations, and said some matters fall under the purview of other UN bodies. The US said it will continue to invest in programming to protect children from violence.

France called on the Council to increase child protection actions using all available tools, including those established to monitor and report violations. Equatorial Guinea appealed to Security Council members to scale up their efforts to protect children in conflict. Peru called for sanctions against propagators of crimes against children. In order to address the high incidence of rape and sexual violence, the UK announced that it will host a global conference to consider ways to hold perpetrators accountable.

Yemen reported that the Houthi militia fighting the country’s government has recruited more than 30,000 children in a conflict that had already affected the lives of 4 million young people. He said that even though the government has adopted several protection measures, the militia has established summer camps to attract children into their ranks, in violation of all international laws and norms. Liechtenstein said the Council is responsible for stopping violations against children in Syria and Yemen, and for enforcing compliance with its own resolutions and respect for international humanitarian law.

Morocco announced that it will adhere to the Vancouver Principles on children in armed conflict. Norway highlighted the work being done by the Justice Rapid Response in strengthening accountability for international crimes and human rights violations against children through the provision of highly specialized, child-focused expertise. Japan expressed support for the Global Coalition for the Reintegration of Child Soldiers. Ireland said the protection of children represents a priority, and a subject on which it will work actively as an elected Council member for 2021-2022.

Canada spoke on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, which is an informal network of 42 Member States representing all five regional groups. The Group’s statement emphasized that the mere signing of an action plan should not form the basis for delisting in the Secretary-General’s annual report, and highlighted the importance of long-term, community-based rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.

On 25 September 2019, the UN General Assembly will hold a high-level event to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child., as agreed in UNGA resolution 73/301. [UN Press Release on Open Debate] [Meeting Summary] [Statement of Special Representative] [UN Press Release on Secretary-General’s Report] [Publication: Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General] [Concept Note and Programme for CRC-30 Commemoration]

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