The rising cross-border dimension of conflict poses an additional threat to the protection of girls and boys and requires concerted efforts beyond conflict areas, a new report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict to the Human Rights Council shows.

“The recruitment and use of children by non-State armed groups using violent extremist tactics raises new challenges from a child protection perspective. The situation is compounded by the global nature of violent extremism that has favoured the emergence of transnational recruitment and the involvement of children in the phenomenon of foreign fighters,” SRSG Virginia Gamba said.

Since 2011, an estimated 14,900 of all the foreign fighters associated with groups using extremist tactics have left conflict zones, including a significant number of accompanying children. Those children are often thought of as security threats, arrested and detained, thus exposing them to further violations such as recruitment and use as informers, torture, sexual violence and trafficking or execution on suspicion of association.

The SRSG reminds Member States that all children associated with parties to conflict should be primarily considered as victims and their rehabilitation and reintegration should be the primary response. If they are accused of a crime during their association with armed groups, children should be processed by the juvenile justice system. The detention of children should always be a last resort, for the shortest time possible and guided by the best interests of the child. “Two wrongs do not make a right,” explained the SRSG.

Attacks on Schools and Abductions on the Rise

The report also points to a significant increase in attacks on schools and the military use of schools during 2018.  More and more children are deprived of education because schools are attacked, destroyed, damaged or occupied or because children- and their families- are fearful to attend classes because of the protection risks they may be exposed to on the road or in the school itself such as abduction, recruitment or sexual violence by parties to conflict. Girls are often specifically targeted to deter them from obtaining an education.

2018 also saw an increase in the prevalence of abduction of children affected by armed conflict, including across borders. Abduction is one of the six grave violations against children and is frequently linked to one or more of the other grave violations such as recruitment and use. “The nature of abduction needs to be better understood, as well as its linkages to other grave violations,” the SRSG explained. To that end, the Special Representative expressed in the report her will to provide conceptual clarity on abduction to child protection practitioners in the field and to provide authorities, humanitarian actors and communities with measures that can help to mitigate or reduce children’s vulnerability to this grave violation in situations of armed conflict. The Office of the SRSG is thus working on a study to better define this violation.

Progress through engagement with warring parties including non-state actors

While protracted and high-intensity conflicts, cyclical spikes in violence, operations to counter violent extremism and cross-border operations by armed forces and groups have continued to disproportionately affect children around the world, enhanced and sustainable engagement with parties to conflict and a rights-based approach to support child victims brought significant progress in the past year.

In Afghanistan, amendments to the criminal code criminalizing the recruitment and use of children by armed forces entered into force. In Nigeria, 833 children have been released from the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), in compliance with the Action Plan signed with the United Nations and this non-state actor. In South Sudan, a revised Action Plan covering all six grave violations is currently developed with the Government, the first of its kind with Government forces. Furthermore, discussions for the adoption of new Joint Action Plans are ongoing with other parties to conflict in Africa, in the Middle East and in Asia.

Engagement with governments and listed parties has also led to a renewed impetus to release children. While thankful for the large number of children released by and separated from parties to armed conflict during 2018, particularly in Africa, the SRSG remains concerned at the lack of adequate support available to these children and their vulnerability to re-recruitment. To address this concern, the Special Representative has advocated for sustainable and reliably funded reintegration programmes for children formerly associated with armed forces and groups. A product of this advocacy has been the creation of a Global Coalition for Reintegration, co-chaired by CAAC and UNICEF, which was launched in September 2018. The Coalition will explore the scope, parameters and structure of a comprehensive and sustainable mechanism to support all children coming out of armed groups and forces and how the peacebuilding and development agendas can be better leveraged to that end.

“A collaborative and complementary approach including Member States, the UN, relevant regional and sub-regional organizations as well as civil society is more than ever essential to ensure sufficient and sustainable resources for the protection and reintegration of children enduring the effects of war, but also to prevent grave violations against children in line with Security Council Resolution 2427,” SRSG Gamba said. “Conflict affected boys and girls should be allowed not only to live in peace without fear or threats, but also to dream of a future filled with opportunities. Ensuring their protection is essential to break cycles of violence and prevent future conflicts.”

Working with Partners

As announced in last year’s report, the SRSG enhanced her activities in terms of public awareness raising and engagement with partners to mobilize global action.  Visits to countries on the children and armed conflict agenda continued with missions to Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and Colombia, amongst others. Cooperation with regional organizations to strengthen their child protection frameworks also remained a priority for the SRSG. Her Office supported training on children and armed conflict for NATO child protection focal points and cooperated closely with the child protection advisor appointed in February 2018 by the African Union. To strengthen her cooperation with European based international and regional organizations as well as civil society, the SRSG opened a liaison office in Brussels.

In order to better protect children and prevent their use and abuse in and for armed conflict, the Special Representative started compiling best practices from the more than 20 years of existence of the mandate with a specific focus on a technical guideline for the inclusion of child protection concerns in peace processes, the prevention of child recruitment and the role of action plans in ending and preventing grave violations. The Office of the Special Representative has also conducted two of a series of regional coordination and exchange of information meetings in collaboration with UNICEF bringing together the UN agencies, departments, country task forces on CAAC as well as civil society to strengthen their ability to support the Children and Armed Conflict objectives and mandates. These meetings occurred in Jordan and in Kenya.

Finally, the Office of the Special Representative continued its close collaboration with civil society and international human rights mechanisms, especially the Human Rights Council. Moving toward the 30th anniversary of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the SRSG reinforced her engagement with Member States to reach universal ratification. The SRSG also increased her advocacy with Member States in support of the signature of the Vancouver Principles, the Paris Principles and the Safe-Schools declaration. “All these measures, if considered in good faith and fully implemented, are effective tools that can contribute to preventing grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict in the first place,” explained the SRSG.


Read the full report

For more information, please contact:

Stephanie Tremblay / Fabienne Vinet
Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
Office: +1-212-963-8285 / Mobile: +1-917-288-5791, /