Second Prepcomm Speech


Preparing for the Special Session on Children:

A draft agenda for action to protect war-affected children

I. Background to the children and armed conflict agenda

In the armed conflicts of recent years children have featured centrally as targets and perpetrators of violence. The number of children who have been directly affected by armed conflict is enormous and unprecedented. During these conflicts, children are maimed and killed and uprooted from their homes and communities. Children are made orphans, and subjected to abuse and exploitation. Children are abducted and sexually abused. Particularly damaging for future generations is the impact of war on girls. Disadvantaged in peacetime, girls undergo sexual abuse and enslavement during war. In addition to all this, war indirectly affects many more children by destroying entire social networks and infrastructures. For example, malnutrition increases due to low food production and displacement; resources for social services are diverted into the war effort; as health services deteriorate infant and child mortality rates rise dramatically; the destruction of schools and the displacement of teachers reduces access to schooling and leaves children at risk of recruitment and feelings of helplessness; displacement separates families and deprives children of a secure environment. All these elements illustrate the horrendous impact of armed conflict on children. These have become common features of today's conflicts; they deserve special attention and action in order to ensure the well-being of all our children in the twenty-first century.

In 1990, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which contains a number of important provisions for the protection of children affected by armed conflict, came into force. The world leaders who gathered at the 1990 World Summit for Children identified the impact of war and violence as among the most serious challenges impeding the realization of the rights enumerated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Participants at the Summit committed themselves to take political action at the highest levels to prioritize children's rights in their respective countries and in their international relations and, more specifically, “to protect children from the scourge of war and to take measures to prevent further armed conflicts?.” The Summit Declaration's 10-point programme to protect the rights of children and improve their lives noted that “the essential needs of children and families must be protected even in times of war.”

A Plan of Action for Implementing the Summit Declaration was simultaneously adopted in 1990, as a framework for more specific national and international undertakings. States undertook to make available the resources necessary to meet their commitments. The “protection of children in especially difficult circumstances, particularly in situations of armed conflict”, figured explicitly among the seven major goals that the Plan of Action called upon all key actors to achieve by the year 2000. However, no specific actions were outlined in the Plan of Action.

II. Recent progress toward the protection of children in situations of armed conflict

One of the most important developments since the 1990 World Summit for Children has been the emergence of a significant and systematic focus on the protection and rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflict.

Graca Machel's ground-breaking report entitled “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children” (A/51/306), which was submitted to the General Assembly in 1996, provided the first comprehensive and compelling assessment of the multiple ways in which children's rights are being violated in the context of armed conflict. Her report laid the foundation for the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, created by the General Assembly in 1996. The Special Representative is mandated inter alia to “assess progress achieved, steps taken, and difficulties encountered in strengthening the protection of children in situations of armed conflict; raise awareness and promote the collection of information about the plight of children affected by armed conflict and encourage the development of networking”; as well as “foster international cooperation to ensure respect for children's rights” in the various stages of armed conflict.

Since the publication of the Machel Report and the establishment of a UN mandate devoted to children and armed conflict, a number of actors have worked hard to contribute to tangible progress in moving forward the agenda for children affected by armed conflict; the following are some examples of such progress:

Advocacy and awareness have increased significantly.

The plight of children affected by armed conflict has been placed prominently on the international political agenda.

Major regional organizations, including the OAU, ECOWAS, the OAS, the European Union, OSCE and the G8 have adopted this issue as part of their own agendas.

The Security Council has formally affirmed (SCR 1261) that the protection and security of war-affected children is a peace-and-security concern which legitimately belongs to its agenda; it has set out specific measures for action (SCR 1314); and it has now established a practice of an annual open debate on this issue.

The new ACP-EU Partnership Agreement (the Cotonou Agreement), which was signed in June 2000, includes important provisions on child rights and war-affected children; this breaks new ground for international economic cooperation agreements.

A number of governments have made the protection of war-affected children a prominent feature of their domestic and international policies and programs.

For the first time, the well-being of war-affected children is being included in peace agendas and peace accords; examples of this development include the peace accords in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone and Burundi.

Important advocacy work has focused on making the needs of children a central concern in policy-making, priority-setting and resource allocation in post-conflict situations; examples where this is beginning to take hold include East Timor, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Guatemala.

International standards have been strengthened – the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor, and the classification of war crimes against children in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, are particularly significant.

Important steps have been taken to integrate children's concerns in peace operations, including peacekeeping mandates, reports to the Security Council, training for peacekeepers, and Child Protection Advisers.

A number of very innovative local initiatives have begun to develop; examples include the National Commission for Children in Sierra Leone, Children as a Zone of Peace in Sri Lanka, a new law in Rwanda allowing girls to inherit property, parliamentary caucuses, women's groups, etc.

Through direct engagement and field visits, important commitments for the protection of children have been secured from state and non-state parties to conflict.

Strong advocacy has made the promotion and strengthening of local societal values and norms, that have traditionally provided for the protection of children and women in times of war, an important aspect of international discourse on child protection.

There has been a major growth in the advocacy and program activities by NGOs, focusing on children affected by armed conflict.

III. Agenda for action to protect war-affected children

The international community is now at a critical juncture in its efforts to protect war-affected children; sustained attention and progress will depend on the depth of political commitment and the extent of the resources that will be deployed towards a set of concrete and targeted actions on behalf of war-affected children. The UN Special Session on Children and its outcome represent a unique opportunity in this regard. This agenda for action to protect war-affected children is proposed in that spirit.

Eliminate impunity for crimes against children committed during the course of armed conflict.

Eliminate the targeting of children in situations of conflict.

Exclude war crimes against children from amnesty provisions and legislation.

Include child protection provisions in the statutes and rules of war crimes tribunals and courts, and in all post-conflict truth-seeking mechanisms.

Obtain rapid signing, ratification and entry into force of the Optional Protocol with a view to achieving universal adherence and full implementation.

Mobilize pressure on parties to armed conflict that use children as combatants.

Address the political, social and economic factors that facilitate the exploitation of children as child soldiers.

Mobilize resources to pursue more effective programmes of demobilization, disarmament and social reintegration and rehabilitation of former child soldiers.

Curb the illicit flow of small arms that fuels conflicts that draw children in as combatants and target children as victims.

Organize more systematic monitoring and reporting of the actions of parties to armed conflict.

Build political projects to bring pressure to bear on parties to conflict that violate their commitments.

Encourage initiatives to impose targeted bans on exports, such as timber, diamonds or oil, from war-affected areas that directly benefit parties to armed conflict who have targeted children and women.

Encourage all regional organizations to include the protection of children affected by armed conflict on their agenda and programs.

Establish mechanisms within the secretariats of regional organizations for the development and implementation of policies, activities, and advocacy for the benefit of children affected by armed conflict.

Include child protection staff in the peace and field operations of regional organizations, and provide training on the rights and protection of children and women to peace and field operation staff.

Child-relevant issues should be addressed initially during peace-making process and then followed up throughout the post-conflict period, including for example: the demobilization and reintegration of former child soldiers; reunification and resettlement of families and displaced children; programmes for physical and psychosocial rehabilitation, education, reconciliation and impunity.

Make the needs of children a central concern in policy-making, priority-setting and resource allocation in post-conflict situations.

Include the protection of children in the mandates of UN peace operations.

Deploy child protection advisers with UN peace operations, and provide them with necessary support and access to resources.

Provide training for peacekeeping personnel in the rights and protection of children and women.

Include sections on children affected by armed conflict in the regular reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on particular conflict situations and relevant issues.

The international community, particularly UN agencies, international NGOs and donors need to make greater resources available for building the capacities of local institutions, NGOs and civil society groups.

Promote and strengthen local norms, values and practices that have served to protect children from the impact of conflict.

Encourage and facilitate youth involvement and participation at national and international levels.

Promote “Children-to-Children networks” to develop links among children in war-affected and peaceful countries so they can learn from each other's experiences, and build solidarity and advocacy.

Promote “Voice of Children”, to systematically develop radio programmes and stations devoted mainly to the needs and interests of children, including their education and health needs, the promotion of tolerance and reconciliation, and to give voice to children's concerns and to raise awareness about children's rights.

Support the development of an international research network on children and armed conflict that will bring together scholars, practitioners, policy-makers, UN agencies, and donors to provide inter alia a systematic survey of traditional norms and values that protect children in war-time; reliable data on the impact of conflict on children and the trends in warfare that most affect children; indicators to measure the impact of interventions on behalf of children; and to build a body of “lessons learned” and “best practices”.

In developing initiatives and programs under the agenda proposed above, special attention must be given to the needs of girls affected by armed conflict, internally displaced children, the liberation of abducted children, the provision of education for children in situations of conflict, the impact of sanctions on children, and the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the corridors of armed conflict.

By the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict