Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba,
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Third Committee of the General Assembly
Discussion of the Promotion and protection of the rights of
children (item 70 (a))

9 October 2018

Mr. Chair,
Distinguished delegates,
Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here today to address the Third Committee at this interactive dialogue together with Ms. Santos-Pais and Mr. Chaiban, two colleagues with which I share a joint vision and work together closely. Our vision is to enable every child to pursue their dreams, grow up in a healthy environment and reach their full potential.

As we are approaching the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we can look back on almost three decades of significant progress in the protection of children, including children affected by armed conflict. Just last year, child protection actors were able to support the reintegration of over 10,000 children, we found new entry points to engage with parties to conflict and further strengthened our engagement with regional actors.

And yet, we still have a long road ahead to ensure that the provisions contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict adopted by this body, yield the results its authors intended. I therefore firmly believe that as members of this Assembly you have both the obligation and unique opportunity to catalyse real change in the lives of children affected by armed conflict.

I would therefore like to outline several current challenges affecting children living in situations of armed conflict, steps that my Office and myself have taken over the past year to overcome these and present a blueprint on how we may join forces to further accelerate progress.

As noted in my report, violations including a cross border dimension were a prevalent feature over the past year. Children continued to be recruited or abducted across borders and used to fight or serve in other roles outside of their countries of origin. While abduction and recruitment across borders is highly traumatic, these boys and girls are often subsequently exposed to unimaginable violence, separated from their families or caregivers and stripped of their support networks. Violations including a cross-border element not only magnify already severe protection concerns children face in conflict situations but also further increase the complexity of both prevention and response efforts.

In this regard I would like to reiterate a point about which I feel strongly: detaining children, regardless of their nationality, solely for their alleged or actual association with armed forces or groups is not a viable response. It not only doubly punishes children whose childhood was taken from them the moment they were recruited but detention is never in the best interest of society. And yet, instead of being provided with opportunities for reintegration, children continue to be detained for extended periods of time for their alleged association, exposed to harsh detention conditions and face severe sentences.

We must therefore assume our common responsibility to find durable and just solutions for all girls and boys affected by war, including those of foreign nationality. Responses that put children at risk of statelessness contravene central tenants of international law and only serve to perpetuate the status quo. Internationally coordinated responses based firmly on international law provide the only viable course of action.

This is why Member State initiatives which raise awareness on the issue of children and armed conflict and catalyze response efforts – such as the Paris Principles – are so important. They provide Member States with guidance on how to treat children affected by armed conflict and therefore deserve our full support. In other words, the issue of children and armed conflict requires Member States, regional and subregional organizations to work together jointly with the United Nations and other child protection actors.

Distinguished delegates,
I believe that protection of children and prevention of grave violations, and ultimately of violent conflict, are two sides of the same coin. One cannot be accomplished without the other. Over the course of the reporting period, my Office therefore launched a number of initiatives aimed at strengthening cooperation and awareness on issues of children and armed conflict in view of moving towards an era of prevention.

The mechanism of action plans has proven to be a robust tool to end and prevent violations against children and hold perpetrators of grave violations to account. However, this tool must not preclude us to take additional measures even before discernible patterns of violations emerge. Establishing prevention plans with Governments, regional and sub-regional organizations on all listable grave violations is therefore one of the priorities my Office focused on to prevent children from being the first victims of violence and address violations taking place across borders.
Over the course of the reporting period, I therefore started to reach out to Member States such as the Central African Republic, Colombia, South Sudan, Sudan and Myanmar who have expressed interest in developing national plans for prevention.

I also pursued my engagement with regional organizations to develop appropriate frameworks for the protection of children in armed conflict including through our contribution to the G5 – Sahel Human Rights Compliance Framework, as well as through enhanced engagement with the Child Protection Advisor within the African Union.

Identifying and making the best use of entry points to strengthen child protection is equally important. My Office, jointly with relevant child protection and mediation actors in the United Nations System, including the Department of Political Affairs, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the United Nations Children’s Fund, therefore initiated a consultative process to compile lessons learned and good practices and to develop practical guidance on the integration of child protection issues in peace processes. The initiative seeks to disseminate knowledge to a broad set of stakeholders on how peace processes can best be leveraged to advance child protection.

This leads me to a further central theme of the report. While we have achieved a lot in terms of strengthening the child protection architecture over the past five, ten, twenty years, we must do better to learn from our experiences and share them across borders with various actors. With your support, I established a unit to further increase public awareness on children and armed conflict, including by collecting, assessing and disseminating best practices and lessons learned. On 24 September for instance, my Office organized an event on the reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and groups to exchange experiences and initiate a lessons-learned process.

Distinguished delegates,
While the situation of children affected by armed conflict in 2018 remains untenable, we must leave this room today with a sense that together we can advance the agenda by taking a number of concrete steps.

Strengthening the legal foundations on children and armed conflict is one of these steps. I am therefore particularly pleased that on the margins of the 73rd General Assembly debate, South Sudan became the 168th Member State to ratify the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Ensuring universal ratification of the Optional Protocol, and moving towards its operationalization, must remain the fulcrum around which our efforts revolve.

Our experience over the past years has shown that reintegration support must take center stage of our response efforts if we want to strengthen protection and prevent future conflict. Reintegration is a tool which enables children who have been deeply traumatized by war, regain ownership over their childhood. It also serves as a prevention tool by offering boys and girls an alternative to a life bound to conflict and minimize the risk of their re-recruitment.

To deepen our understanding of these issues, I recently announced the creation of a ‘Coalition for Reintegration’ to bring together relevant actors to enable sustainable, comprehensive and long-term reintegration. Your active support in this endeavor will be essential.

Education is an indispensable aspect of children’s socialization and thus also of any reintegration effort. The Safe Schools Declaration has made an important contribution towards protecting education in conflict settings and I have repeatedly called for ensuring access to education for children affected by armed conflict by protecting schools, teachers and students from attack. I would like to take this opportunity to once again encourage Member States who have not yet done so to join the 81 endorsing states and support the declaration’s operationalization.

In the next months, my Office will be finalizing the design and launching a new global advocacy campaign to end and prevent all six grave violations against children in armed conflict. The campaign will work with child protection actors on the ground, Member States, regional organizations and civil society to impulse a dramatic change in the global mobilization towards ending violations.

The initiatives I have just described are very much in line with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. To better protect children and reach our ultimate objective of preventing violations against boys and girls, we need to include their needs in all aspects of our work. Initiatives such as the Alliance 8.7 launched by the International Labour Organization in 2015 to eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour are important vehicles to leverage these commonalities and move forward both the 2030 and the children and armed conflict agendas.

Distinguished delegates,
Finally, in line with last year’s request, I would like to ask you to ensure sufficient resources are provided to my Office, child protection advisors on the ground and our partners to realise the joint vision I alluded to in my opening remarks.

We must become better at preventing violations before they take place and we must ensure that children are at the centre of peace processes.
I feel strongly that the initiatives mentioned above offer us a pathway to make this vision a reality in line with the Secretary-General’s notion that prevention is the best tool for protection.
Thank you.