Note: A complete summary of today’s Security Council open debate will be made available after its conclusion.
VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the abuses children were subjected to over the last year were as grievous as they were many. She recounted events surrounding the death of three children in South Sudan who were killed when an unexploded ordnance detonated. In the Philippines, an 11-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were recruited and used by the New People’s Army. Four children in Somalia were abducted by Al-Shabaab, accused of associating with Government forces, while in Afghanistan 3 boys and 42 girls were killed after a vehicle-borne device detonated outside their high school in Kabul. In Burkina Faso, two girls were abducted, each raped by two armed men. “The examples are endless,” she remarked.
She said that, in 2021, in the 21 country situations and 1 regional monitoring arrangement covered by her mandate, the United Nations verified 23,982 grave violations, with more than 19,165 child victims; of that, 1,600 children were victims of two or more violations, illustrating how these abuses are often interlinked. “This represents an average of 65 grave violations committed against children every single day, of every week, of every month in the year,” she noted.
In addition, 8,000 children were either killed or maimed, making this the most prevalent of all grave violations, she continued, noting that the use of explosive remnants of war, improvised explosive devices and landmines caused a quarter of these casualties. The recruitment and use of children for, in and by parties to armed conflict — with over 6,300 children verified recruited and used — was the second most prevalent violation, followed by the denial of humanitarian access to children, at over 3,900 incidents. Worryingly, both abductions and rape and other forms of sexual violence increased by 20 per cent last year. Of particular concern is the steady increase in violations against girls, such as killing and maiming, sexual violence and abduction. There were 2,864 children detained or deprived of their liberty, as well as a verified rise in the military use of schools.
She said a range of challenges — from violent extremism in the Central Sahel and Lake Chad Basin regions and dire security conditions in the Horn of Africa, to the disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law, coups and COVID-19 — continue to place children at risk. The severity of the armed violence in places like Ethiopia, Mozambique and Ukraine has led the Secretary-General to include these situations in the children and armed conflict agenda, prompting the immediate start of monitoring to report on these situations by 2023.
Hand in hand with tragedy, there were also signs of hope and recovery in 2021, she said, pointing to 17 joint action plans with parties to conflict under implementation, including three that were signed in 2021 — two in Mali with Platform groups and one in Yemen with the Houthis. Together, her office and child protection teams on the ground are also successfully engaging with other listed parties to adopt action plans in Iraq and Syria. Altogether, 40 new commitments and agreed measures were put in place by parties to conflict last year alone, she said, citing gains made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Philippines and South Sudan in that context.
Describing recommendations outlined in her report, she said it is vital that United Nations operations are adequately mandated, staffed and funded to carry out monitoring and reporting, engaging with parties, developing joint action plans, providing technical assistance to signatories for implementation purposes, and the undertaking of other life-saving interventions, including securing the release of children from conflict. Humanitarian spaces must always be safeguarded, while parties to conflict must allow safe, timely and unimpeded humanitarian access to all children. Sustainable financial support and technical assistance for gender-, age- and disability-sensitive, survivor-centred child reintegration programmes is also needed, including for survivors of sexual violence, which is critical. Best practices must be promoted, and tools developed to consistently evolve the work at hand.
“Children affected by conflict need our support — and they need it now,” she stressed, underscoring the critical importance for the international community to increase support for mine action, including to increase child-sensitive data‑collection and assistance programmes. Parties to conflict must respect their international law obligations, while Member States can support prevention by signing, ratifying and implementing relevant international instruments. “The best way to protect children and to prevent violations against them in situations of armed conflict is to promote and champion peace,” she said.
CATHERINE RUSSELL, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), spotlighted the Secretary-General’s report, stressing that, as conflicts proliferate around the world, grave violations against children continue. “Children — and childhood — are under attack. I want to pause and take a moment to reflect on just how appalling the information in the Secretary‑General’s report really is,” she said. The report lays out evidence of more than 23,000 violations against 19,165 children in 2021. The children were killed, some were grievously injured, some were raped and some suffered multiple violations. However, these violations were against children that the United Nations could verify; many others could not be reached. “The world has failed all of them,” she said. In 2021 alone, at least 12,214 children were released from armed forces and armed groups — bringing the total number of children documented as released since 2000 to more than 186,000 girls and boys.
She called on Member States to use their enormous power to drive progress to protect children and urged them to do more, including insisting on compliance with international humanitarian law and going beyond the requirements of the law. “You have the power to issue military orders with zero-tolerance policies on grave violations against children,” she said. “Please use that power.” She also urged Member States to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration to protect children and schools from attack and misuse by parties to conflict and to endorse and implement the Paris Principles to demobilize and reintegrate children who have been used by armed forces and groups.
Council members should push States and non-State armed groups to prevent and end grave violations against children — and to protect children who have survived grave violations from stigma and revictimization, she continued. This includes ending the detention of children who have been forced to serve in armed groups or deny them the right to citizenship, no matter which groups they have been associated with. Finally, she called on Member States to support the United Nation efforts to implement the children and armed conflict agenda on the ground — both through resource allocation and through commitment to work with UNICEF to protect, strengthen and stand behind this agenda.
PATRICK KUMI, Founder and Executive Director of Similar Ground, said that, in 2016 at the age of 15, war broke out in the Eastern Equatoria region of South Sudan. He and his father were abducted by an armed group, tortured, beaten and kept in a pit filled with water up to their necks. His father was eventually killed in front of him. Told to join the group or die, he cried and could not eat for days. He was put barracks with over 2,000 people — half of them children, many carrying guns. “I was shocked and speechless,” he said, noting some had joined for money, out of peer pressure or for revenge after their families had been killed. A 10-year-old joined because his parents were mistreating him, and many younger children had girls they called “wives”; the adults were also married to children of 14 or 15. In each attack he was forced to participate in, at least five children were killed or injured. There were harmful drugs and no medical care. “We drank water together with the animals,” he said.
When an attack was launched in the barracks by Government forces, he narrowly escaped death, fleeing to Uganda, where he was registered in the Bidi‑Bidi refugee settlement and then eventually reunited with his family, he continued. After joining a War Child programme called VoiceMore, he and friends set up Similar Ground, a community-based organization, helping hundreds of children recover from their trauma. “I wasted three years of my life trying to recover,” he said, adding that many children never recover at all. With thousands of children currently going through what he did, he spent years considering their needs. He called for better quality reintegration, as “children leaving armed groups need our full support to heal” — including medical care, family reunification and education.
In addition, children leaving armed groups are seen as a threat, he pointed out. Therefore, communities need support in understanding their needs and experiences. He further called for greater funding sustainability billions of dollars are given annually in humanitarian aid, projects are implemented and then are ended. International organizations must collaborate better locally so that when projects conclude, community and Government can take over. International non-governmental organization play an important role, but, eventually, leave, “whereas we know our issues well”, he said.
Calling for more participation in decision-making for “people like me”, he stressed: “It is great I can speak here today, and I am grateful for this opportunity, but one young person, once a year, is not enough.” Young people affected by conflict need more opportunity to participate in policy and programming that concerns them — including in the United Nations system by designing and leading responses. He also highlighted the need for greater accountability. Despite the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Geneva Conventions and Security Council resolutions — and despite most countries agreeing to them — those accords are neither respected nor adequately enforced. Militaries, armed groups and local government departments must understand the laws and be held to account when they break them. Citing his recent visit with friends and colleagues in the Bidi-Bidi settlement, he noted they all asked him to tell the Council that if policy and programming concerns children, “then let it be for them”.
FERNANDO SIMAS MAGALHÃES, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brazil and Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to highlight that, despite progress over the past 25 years in protecting children from the scourge of war, they remain subject to violations due to the failure of parties in armed conflict to comply with international law. Some of these children are disproportionately vulnerable — such as refugee, internally displaced and Stateless children — and neighbouring, transit and host countries must ensure that children arriving in their territories are immediately identified and provided access to all public services and social benefits, including education. For its part, Brazil has been providing access to education and health, among other services and benefits, for children fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Syria and Venezuela. He went on to stress that reintegration must be seen as a third pillar of the children and armed conflict agenda, complementing the efforts of prevention and protection and understood as a long-term process requiring long‑term commitment. He also emphasized that accountability is essential in ending grave violations, that counter-terrorism efforts should treat children primarily as victims, that the Council must ensure sanctions do not have adverse humanitarian consequences for civilian populations and that child-protection provisions and capacity should be included in all relevant mandates of United Nations peacekeeping operations and special political missions.
NAME TO COME (Norway) said the report presents “a highly uncomfortable, but unquestionable truth: that children pay the highest price of war”, adding that the international community needs facts and data in order to respond adequately. United Nations country teams and partners have proven to be adaptable — monitoring and reporting on violations in challenging environments. The addition of four new situations of concern in this year’s report, including Palestine, is an important step towards advancing country‑level progress to protect children. More must be done to secure the necessary funding, including follow-up in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary, she said. Prevention is better than cure and she called on all parties to conflict to sign and implement action plans with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and for Member States to endorse and implement the Paris and Vancouver Principles, and the Safe School Declaration. All children must be treated as children, including those associated with armed groups and those designated as terrorist groups. She urged all Member States to treat all children involved primarily as victims of violations of international law, stressing the need for accountability, and to bring to justice those responsible for violations of international law, including through cooperation with the International Criminal Court.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), aligning himself with the upcoming statement of the Friends of the Responsibility to Protect and the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, said his delegation joined the commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate earlier this year. While encouraged by the many outcomes that inspire hope in existing capabilities to ensure child safety, he expressed concern that many more children in conflict environments are subject to all six grave violations against children. To enhance the protection of children in conflict, he called for the Council’s full support to allocate targeted, practical and rapid resources to provide responses to threats against children or avert potential dangers. Such resources provide safe accommodation and enhanced protection of displaced, refugee and stateless children from the six grave violations. There is also an urgent need to ensure that children associated with armed or terrorist groups are not treated as criminals but as victims. Member States have the responsibility to establish and strictly enforce laws which criminalize attacks against schools, as well as to ensure the continuation, re-establishment and preservation of education during armed conflict, in line with the Safe Schools Declaration.
NAME TO COME (United States) said his delegation is encouraged by the humanitarian truce in Ethiopia and expressed hope that parties will use the momentum to start talks. He similarly welcomed the truce in Yemen, expressing support for United Nations engagement with the parties. The situation in Myanmar meanwhile is of particular concern, as on a single day in Kayah state, the military massacred 35 people, including from the organization Save the Children. A doctor who analysed the area noted that almost every victim’s skull was fractured. It is “beyond comprehension” that some continue to provide lethal tools to the military, enabling it to perpetrate such brutal repression. These sales must end. The Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, meanwhile, has added another “dark chapter to the assault on children”. Its forces forcibly deported more than 1 million Ukrainian civilians to the Russian Federation through a filtration process, including 260,000 children.
Commending the Secretary-General for listing Ukraine, Mozambique and Ethiopia as situations of concern in the annual report, he went on to stress that violent attacks on schools in Afghanistan continue to hinder children’s access to education and girls have been barred from enrolling in secondary schools. The Security Council has been clear that if the Taliban want normalized relations with the international community, schools must be open to all female students without delay. “We have not done enough to protect children from the impact of conflict,” he said, underscoring the United States desire to see the agenda elevated and integrated into all Council work. He called on all States to adopt national accountability measures, stressing that the Council must ensure all that peacekeeping and political missions have adequate child protection capacity. He also called on the Special Representative to develop a guidance note on the denial of humanitarian access for children, demanding that all parties give them unimpeded access.
NAME TO COME (France) pointed to the release of more than 150,000 children since 2005 as a positive result of the international community’s work to help children in armed conflict. Adding that more must be done to address the increasing conflicts and violations, he also condemned the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine. Further, there should be more regular reports in cases of urgency, he said, underscoring that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake. Combating serious violations must not stop with the liberation of children, who must be reintegrated into civilian life. Stressing that efforts must be redoubled to protect child refugees and displaced children, he said that education for those children is a priority. He welcomed efforts to help stateless children, including the repealing of laws that prevent women from passing on their nationality to their children. In addition, the fight against impunity must be continued and make greater use of sanctions tools, alongside with investigations.
NAME TO COME (India) quoted Mahatma Gandhi: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” The scale and severity of violations perpetrated against children in armed conflict continues rising, and the international community has the obligation to do its utmost to support those affected, without discrimination. He cited the engagement of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, resulting in the release of 12,214 children over the last year alone. National Governments have the primary responsibility for prosecuting and deterring crimes in conflict situations on their territories, he stressed — even if these are alleged to have been committed by non-State actors. Citing the dangerous trend in global terrorism, with rising numbers of children recruited, he called for Member States to demonstrate greater political will to hold the perpetrators and their sponsors to account. Noting the report cites over 25 per cent of child casualties — or 2,257 children — were caused by mines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war, he expressed support for the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies. He expressed concern that, despite the Council’s clear mandate, the report includes situations that are not armed conflict or threats to the maintenance of international peace and security. “We must be cautious as attempts to selectively expand the mandate will only politicize its agenda,” he stated.
AMEIRAH AL HEIFEITI (United Arab Emirates) emphasized the need to support multi-stakeholder mechanisms dedicated to the protection and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict, along with the need to continue addressing the abduction of children in conflict settings. Towards this end, age- and sex‑disaggregated data collection must be accelerated to advance understanding of how conflicts impact girls and boys differently throughout the conflict continuum. Noting that forced displacements are reaching record levels, she urged the Council to focus on the particular needs of displaced children, including by ensuring that their protection is integrated into the mandates of peace operations and that they can access essential services. She added that children displaced by armed conflict have a fundamental right to education — as does every child — which should be inclusive, sensitive to their needs and tailored to their well-being, cultural sensibilities and language preferences.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) urged the Council to incorporate child protection provisions and capability into all mandates of peacekeeping operations and special political missions, notably for early warning, protection of civilians, transitional justice and disarmament, among others. Noting that harm to children by terrorist groups should receive the Council’s urgent attention, he expressed concern over the “extraordinarily” high incidence of crimes against children by Al-Shabaab, Da’esh and the Houthis, terrorist groups that carry out mass abductions as part of their recruitment. Children are kidnapped from their homes and schools, trafficked or forcibly married to terrorists. The process of radicalization is itself a grave harm to children, he added, and the psychological dimensions of such abuse must receive attention from clinical psychology experts. The ability of Al-Shabaab, Da’esh and the Houthis to control territory — and the populations within it — are key to their harming of children, and as such, the Council should agree that military and police pressure on these groups is integral to the protection of children. Children born to terrorists or who have recruited by terrorist and militant groups need assistance when they surrender or are captured, he stressed, noting that States should be supported with the capacity to suppress the use of explosive ordinances by terrorist and armed groups.
NAME TO COME (Gabon), highlighting progress made in freeing and reintegrating child soldiers, noted that some Governments of States in conflict have adopted national plans on the issue. However, the international community must generate a greater sense of responsibility to advocate for all children caught in the chronic spiral of poverty and fragility. In Yemen, Myanmar and Afghanistan, millions of children are recruited as soldiers, and in the Sahel and other regions, the combined effects of insecurity and climate change pose a permanent threat to children. Member States must unambiguously affirm that children should be with their parents and at school and not on the battlefield. In that regard, provisional mobile classrooms can be a crucial part of the United Nations humanitarian response. It is also critical to must address root causes including hunger, poverty and non-existent basic infrastructure, which push children to join armed and terrorist groups. The most vulnerable States require support, including through rapid early warning systems, surveillance of mafia networks, and cooperation among States and collaboration between the United Nations and regional organizations. Noting the uneven ratio between liberated child soldiers and those reintegrated into society, she called for greater action and support, including specifically for girls and the disabled.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) highlighted the importance of the children and armed conflict agenda, which is linked to preventative diplomacy, the protection of civilians during armed conflict and achieving sustainable peace. Recalling that Mexico was the first elected member to chair the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and is now Vice-Chair, he called on the Council to continue working on the Group’s design and mandate, and to increase coordination between the Group and the Council’s other subsidiary bodies, including Sanctions Committees. While preventing serious violations is the Group’s main mandate, it also must ensure that reintegration programmes are fully implemented and that assistance programmes are designed with gender and age in mind. Further, it is increasingly clear that providing psychosocial assistance is a crucial pillar of the Group’s mandate, as it should be for all humanitarian aid programmes. He added that, to achieve full reintegration, national child‑protection services are required, including the provision of education and social security for all.