Building Peace: Protecting Children in Conflict

Opening Event of Geneva Peace Week 2018

Remarks by Ms. Virginia Gamba

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

 5 November 2018

 Palais des Nations, Geneva



Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honored to be here for the opening of Peace Week. Geneva is a city with a long tradition of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable and an equally long tradition of innovation to foster peace.

Thank you for coming out today to join us in our endeavours to help children burdened by and affected by conflict. A special thank you to Director General Møller for taking time out of his very busy schedule during this important week to join us. And another special thank you to our co-sponsors and strong supporters, the representatives of Belgium and Uruguay, Ambassadors Muylle and González. They believe, just like you, that children should be at the heart of initiatives undertaken to build peace in communities devastated by war.

I thank our panelists and look forward to our exchange.

The Mandate I represent was born over two decades ago because the international community realized that children – the majority of the population in most countries affected by conflict, were the most affected by war.

They also realized the potential of children to become game changers, peace builders. If only we could bring their voices to local, national and international arenas, I am sure this would make a difference for their communities and their own future.

Ending violations against children in times of war is the primary focus of my work. But we do not stop there. Preventing violations – and therefore contributing to building peace – is our ultimate goal.

Here’s how our work is structured:
Working in collaboration with our partners in the field, my office gathers information, reports on how and where children are affected by armed conflict, and shares it at the highest levels in the UN and beyond. We are a megaphone to generate global attention to the violations that children are suffering in war.

Uniquely, we name parties to conflict who recruit and use child soldiers, kill and maim boys and girls, commit sexual violence, abduct children, attack schools and hospitals and deny them access to basic human and health services.

We then use this information to take action to protect these children and, as much as possible, to prevent violence againt them. The UN engages in dialogue with Government forces and armed groups listed in our report to develop Action Plans to not only end but also prevent violations against children.

Let me give you an example from South Sudan, where I was in September, and where a new peace agreement was celebrated a few weeks ago.

Action Plans are like ‘contracts’ we have with the government or armed groups that appear on the list in our report. They are meant to systematically address the violations parties to conflict are committing against children, and put in place mechanisms to stop them and prevent future abuse. We currently have two in South Sudan – one with the national army –– and another one with an opposition group, the SPLM-iO.

As you can imagine, implementation has not been easy in a part of the world experiencing continuing cycles of violence, but we don’t give up and our work continues. And it pays off. Since the beginning of 2018, over 900 children have been released from these groups and are receiving reintegration services to give them back their life and a piece of their childhood.

In Yambio, I met some of the children in these programmes implemented by World Vision with the support of UNICEF.

They told me about the fear they experienced as child soldiers. Fear of getting injured, mistreated, raped or even killed. They also told me about the things they saw, the violence they witnessed, or experienced firsthand.

The children were grateful to have access to reintegration assistance, but they were also aware of the uncertainty of their future. Some of the boys and girls I met had families they could go back to, possibly a school they could attend. Others had none of that, which was making the child protection community fearful that a lack of options could mean a return to violence through re-recruitment, or a life of crime on the street.

In my talks with South Sudanese authorities, I asked them to rethink the way they address grave violations against children to include a true focus on prevention. I asked them to work with the United Nations to develop a new, comprehensive action plan that would formally address all 6 grave violations with the goal of putting in place strong mechanisms to prevent the abuse of children as quickly as possible.

In September, following my mission there, the South Sudanese Government acceded to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which prohibits the recruitment and use of child soldiers in conflict. It is my hope that it will be fully implemented and lead to real changes for the children of the country.

I am also calling on the international community to rethink how they can support reintegration programs for former child soldiers, services for child victims of sexual violence, to rebuild education and health systems, to help restart agricultural production and all other necessary services to help the country recover from this terrible conflict. This is a crucial moment and it is essential to give children the tools they need to become peace builders in their communities.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The situation in South Sudan is one of 20 situations of conflict on my agenda. Each one of them has specific challenges for the protection of children and to prevent violations against boys and girls.

With our panelists, we will discuss in more detail the complexities we are faced with, but allow me to highlight a few of my office’s priorities:

  • We are working towards increased engagement with non-State actors to generate more commitments and action to end and prevent grave violations against children. I am glad to have Geneva Call and Nathalie Ben Zakour Man from the UN mission in the Central African Republic on the panel today to talk more about this, especially as this is an area in which we see encouraging openings.
  • We are working on the inclusion of child protection in ceasefires, peace dialogue and peace processes.
  • We are also strengthening our strategy to use the mandate as a tool to prevent violations against children.
  • Increasing our cooperation with regional and sub-regional organizations is at the core of this strategy. By developing a common approach to the protection of children, we want to create a multiplying effect, allowing us to expand the reach and effectiveness of our work to entire regions and leverage existing mechanisms and norms. We are working to build sub-regional prevention plans to contain the use of children across borders. I am opening a fellowship to that effect.
  • We need to highlight the role of Child Protection Advisors in monitoring, preparing the way for engagement with parties to conflict, providing technical assistance to parties that signed Action Plans, assisting in the separation of children and advising military commander on how to better protect children from armed conflict. We need to protect these posts and double their number whenever possible.
  • Finally, providing meaningful and sustainable reintegration services to children formerly associated with armed forces and groups is essential to helping them rebuild their lives and to rebuilding their country as a whole. This September I launched the Global Coalition for Reintegration that will convene protection actors, donors and experts over the next 12 months to develop a Road Map towards more comprehensive and sustainable funding for reintegration services for children.

Together, we can stop the use and abuse of boys and girls by, in and for armed conflict. They count on all of us to get the protection and support they need.

Thank you.